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

A controversial housing development that would bring 49 affordable-housing units to the Metro owned empty lot on 1st and Lorena Streets has been stallled for nearly a year, held up in a city committee.

Current rendering of 1st and Lorena development by A Community of Friends.

Nonprofit developer A Community of Friends was given the green light from Los Angeles’ Planning Department to begin construction on the project, which would offer half of its units to veterans and the other half to homeless people who have been diagnosed as mentally ill.  The Los Angeles Times reports that the project is stalled because of opposition from one of its would-be neighbors.

The family that owns El Mercado –the popular three-story market and restaurant– appealed the housing project’s environmental report saying the development would adversely affect area schools and libraries and that it lacked parking. That appeal by the heirs to Pedro Rosado –El Mercado’s owner, who died in 2015– has stalled development and is waiting for a hearing at the City Council’s planning committee, the LA Times writes.

That committee is chaired by Councilman José Huízar, whose district includes Boyle Heights and who has historically opposed the project. Huízar is responsible for recommending that the City Council reject the appeal and proceed with development or tell A Community of Friends to do more environmental analysis.

The  development at 1st and Lorena could be one of the first to benefit from a $1.2 billion homeless housing bond that voters approved in November. Ironically, The Times reports, Huízar was one of the strongest advocates for the passage of Proposition HHH.

When the decision to award the project to A Community of Friends came before the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Pedro Rosado and his son Tony Rosado –who now runs El Mercado– testified that housing mentally ill people at that location would be a potential threat to children who visit the marketplace. Huízar, who said he wanted to see more retail space at the location, was the only board member to vote against the project.

A 2015 rendering of the project, then called Lorena Plaza.

Since its inception, the 1st and Lorena project has been rejected by community members who felt the Metro lot should be used for a park. In 2015 the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council gave its nod to the project after A Community of Friends agreed to dedicate half of the apartments to homeless veterans.

While the development plans once included up to 26,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space, current plans call for only 10,000 square feet of retail.

The Times reports that Huízar has not yet scheduled a planning committee hearing to discuss how the Rosados’ appeal will be handled. The councilman’s spokesman tells the LA Times that Huízar is waiting for A Community of Friends and El Mercado to negotiate but that he would ultimately schedule a hearing to take place in May or June.

A Community of Friends has until June 30 to get approval for the development. After that, Metro would be free to look for a new developer.

Separately, the Rosado family has its own plans for development and improvements at the market more popularly known in Boyle Heights as El Mercadito.

Kyle García is a former web editor with Boyle Heights Beat.

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