The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council has given its approval to the controversial Lorena Plaza mixed-use development project on a parcel of land owned by Metro on the corner of Lorena and First streets.

The 15-to-1 non-binding vote came at the July 22 board meeting. It means the Council will write a letter to the Metro Board giving its blessing to the nonprofit developer, A Community of Friends (ACOF), to build a five-story building with 49 apartments and 10,000 square feet of retail space right next to the historic El Mercado.

Dora Leong Gallo, the developer’s CEO, told the Neighborhood Council that half of the apartments will be reserved for veterans with special needs — mental or physical disabilities or a history of  homelessness.

Gallo showed the BHNC an animated video that gave a three-dimensional view of the project, which some neighbors have opposed since it was proposed several years ago. They say it will bring people with mental disabilities and social ills into the community and also  increase density in an already crowded neighborhood.

Some speakers at the meeting said the development would add traffic to an already jammed intersection, particularly on weekends when El Mercado receives a large number of visitors. But others said they welcomed the project because of the need for low-income housing, especially for veterans.

Gallo assured the Council that Boyle Heights residents would be able to apply for the subsidized units and that applications would be considered on a first-come, first-served basis. She said the developers had made changes in the project’s design to address the traffic flow problem.

As to the project’s density, Gallo told BHB that the project is far less dense than the city  allows.  “This is a transit-oriented development on a high commercial corridor,” she said, referring to its location within walking distance of the Indiana Gold Line Station. “The expectation is that that’s where density should be located.”

Carlos Montes, the sole board member voting against the project, said he opposed Lorena Plaza because of the traffic and pollution such high-density projects bring.

“I oppose the Lorena project because A Community of Friends kept changing their messaging and information from meeting to meeting,” Montes said. “This last meeting, they added on veterans, because they knew they would get the sympathy of veterans, but basically it’s for special needs families.”

Montes pointed to similar five-story apartment buildings that have been built in recent months on both First Street and Lorena Street, adding to the neighborhood’s traffic and air and noise pollution. He said that area residents want Metro to build a public park on the lot.

Gallo said the project’s next phase is to seek the Metro Board’s approval of its latest design at a meeting expected in November.

The BHNC also voted to give its approval to the construction of a Bracero Memorial at Hollenbeck Park. The memorial, proposed by Baldomero Capiz, director of the Unión Binacinoal de Exbraceros, consists of a sculpture depicting a Mexican manual laborer like the thousands who participated in the bracero program in the 1940s and ‘50s.

The council voted 15 to 1 to give the memorial its blessing, despite opposition from several community members who said that while the bracero sculpture was a worthy project, it should not be placed in Hollenbeck Park. Council member Anthony Soto cast the dissenting vote.

In other items, the BHNC board voted to consider a redesign of the group’s logo and to look into the construction of one or more dog parks in Boyle Heights.

The next BHNC board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, August 26 in the Boyle Heights City Hall community room.

Antonio Mejías-Rentas

Antonio Mejías-Rentas is a Senior Editor at Boyle Heights Beat, where he mentors teenage journalists, manages the organization’s website and covers local issues. A veteran bilingual journalist, he's...

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