Metro owned empty lot on corner of 1st and Lorena where a nonprofit developer plans to construct a mixed use residential and retail project. Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Despite ongoing opposition from the owners of El Mercado, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously gave its approval to a homeless housing project proposed for an empty Metro lot on 1st and Lorena Streets that has been stalled for several years.

Following a recommendation from Councilman José Huízar, the council voted 13-0 to reject an appeal of the project filed by the family that owns the popular market just East of the lot.  Huízar –who for years opposed the $23 million project from nonprofit developer A Community of Friends– had granted the appeal during a meeting in August of the city’s Public Land Use Management committee which he presides.

An early rendering of the project, once called Lorena Plaza.

Under the latest agreement, the developer will build 49 affordable-housing units on the lot, with 24 of the apartments going to “families experiencing homelessness,” half of which would be families with disabilities. Another 24 apartments would go to veterans and their families, with the remaining unit going to a resident manager.

The project will also include 10,000 square feet of commercial space, but the developer will reserve some of that for community activities. The Los Angeles Times reported they will include  an early learning center and the YMCA.

The First and Lorena project has faced opposition since its inception, including from nearby residents who complained that Metro –which bought and razed the businesses on the lot to use as staging area during construction of the Gold Line– had promised it would be converted to a park.

Huízar said he opposed the project because, among other issues, Metro cut back the amount of retail space from the originally proposed 25,000 square feet. On Tuesday, Huízar said he dropped his opposition because the developer had addressed some of his concerns, including analyzing the lot’s soil for contamination before construction begins.

Other concerns addressed include removing all windows and openings facing East and having tenants sign an agreement, acknowledging that some of the businesses in El Mercado sell alcohol, play music and stay open past midnight.

The project at 1st and Lorena is now likely to be one of the first homeless housing projects to be funded by Proposition HHH, a voter-approved bond measure that Huízar championed,

But the heirs of the late businessman Pedro Rosado, who own El Mercado, submitted a letter to the City Council on Tuesday saying they still oppose the project because the city has not addressed the potential threat of soil contamination at the lot.

“We are disappointed that the City Council approved a project to be built on a toxic site without first studying and cleaning up the contamination,” the Rosado family said in a statement sent to The Times.

Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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