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Hundreds turn out for hearing on controversial Lorenzo apartment and retail project in South L.A.

January 13, 2011 | 12:16 pm

Hundreds of people converged on the Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday as it considered one of South L.A.'s largest and most controversial building proposals -- the $250-million Lorenzo development, the latest venture of Geoffrey H. Palmer, the developer whose Italian-themed downtown apartment complexes -- including the Medici, Visconti, Orsini and Piero projects -- have drawn both praise and condemnation.

Supporters and opponents of the project jammed the main City Council meeting room, where the commission hearing was being held.

Backers call the proposed 900-unit-plus project near the USC campus a much-needed addition to a district lacking high-quality rental and retail venues. Opponents label the development a case of putting luxury apartments above the housing and health needs of a struggling, mostly working-class community.

The commission must vote on whether to allow the project in a site now zoned for medical or educational services.

Apart from its size and the controversy it has generated, the project is closely watched because of its link to mass transit -- the complex would be next to a planned Expo Line station, just one stop from USC and the Los Angeles Convention Center. As city leaders embrace public transportation as an alternative to gridlocked freeways, planners are focusing on the nexus between mass transit and urban development.

"It's the first transit-oriented project in South Los Angeles, and it will probably have a weight as to how we design future projects," said Faisal A. Roble, a senior city planner, who called the development one of the community's largest in decades.

The Lorenzo, on property previously held by the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital at 23rd and Flower streets, would include 919 apartments and 34,000 square feet of retail space. The developer says it would create more than 1,800 construction jobs, generate more than $100 million in labor income and provide a permanent boost to property tax revenues and area spending -- alluring attributes in a time of sweeping fiscal retrenchment.

A full story will follow after the meeting concludes.


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-- Patrick J. McDonnell at Los Angeles City Hall