County considers seizing land from developer to build its own mega mixed-user in South LA

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing Tuesday on its plans to seize property from a developer who, for decades, hasn’t done anything with his parcels in South LA.

The board is considering a proposal to use eminent domain to take control of roughly four acres near Manchester and Vermont avenues in Vermont Knolls. That land includes the site of a long-stalled shopping center.

Right now, the property is just vacant lots, parking lots, and an empty retail building, according to a report from the county’s Chief Executive Office. If acquired by the county, the land would be used for a mixed-user with affordable housing, a school, stores, and community spaces.

Most of the land is owned by Eli Sasson, who heads up the development firm Sassony Group and Sassony Properties. His land was once home to a swap meet that was destroyed in the civil unrest of 1992.

Since 1999, Sasson has tried unsuccessfully to redevelop his property. Most recently, Sassony Properties announced plans to use the land to build a high-end retail center with tenants like Gucci and Channel, if project renderings are to be believed. The project broke ground with fanfare in 2015—but the site has been quiet since then.

For years, community members have been skeptical that Sassony Group ever planned to build anything there. Earlier this year, the executive vice president of the Community Coalition of South LA told LA Weekly that Sassony was “a land prospector waiting for gentrification to hit this area so that he can make a lot of money.”

By taking over the land and building this development, the county would be “eliminating the property as a source of public nuisances over the past 21 years,” the county’s report says.

The project would span parcels that are owned by both Sassony Properties and the CRA/LA.
LA County Board of Supervisors

The land needed for the mixed-use project is made up of roughly 20 parcels. Six of those are owned by the CRA/LA, the successor agency to the former Community Redevelopment Agency of the city of Los Angeles, which was dissolved in 2012.

The rest are owned by “various corporate entities ultimately owned and controlled by Sasson.”

A proposed layout of the project that could be built on the site.

The County has already made offers to the CRA/LA and Sassony Group for the properties, as they’re required to do before invoking eminent domain.

The mixed-use complex proposed by the county would bring 180 units of affordable housing (all for low-income or very low-income tenants), shops, community spaces, a public charter school with student boarding (the county’s first), and “career technical education center,” the report says. The development would also include a parking structure, transit plaza, and bus transfer center.

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