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Harvard-Westlake Wants A New Parking Structure And A Sky Bridge, Neighbors Are Very Not Into It

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Harvard-Westlake, the elite Studio City private school that claims the likes of Mayor Eric Garcetti and both Gyllenhaals as alumni, has been working for four years on a proposal for a new parking lot on its own property along Coldwater Canyon Avenue. It's not just any parking lot, however. The plans call for a three-story, 750-car parking garage that's crowned with a lighted, athletic practice facility that's the size of a football field. Also, a sky bridge will span over Coldwater Canyon Avenue, allowing student pedestrians to walk over the traffic beneath.

The project is not sitting well with some residents who live in the area, however. Much of the argument centers around the structure's impact on traffic, added with the fact that the facility will be built for a private entity. “That’s a lot to ask of a community for a project that’s benefiting only the school; there’s no public benefit,” Sarah Boyd, a resident, told Los Angeles Daily News. Boyd is also president of Save Coldwater Canyon!, a group of residents who are helping lead the push against the project.

As a decision by the city's Planning Commission may arrive as early as next month, the public comments period has taken on a tone of extra urgency. This was evidenced on Tuesday morning as a large turnout packed Van Nuys City Hall for the first public hearing held by the planning department:

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According to CBS2, hundreds of people showed up for hearing. "I feel that I need to keep supporting the school, assisting them in meeting their mission, which is to provide the best education possible," former student Noel Hyun told CBS2 outside Van Nuys City Hall.

One of the major arguments against the project revolves around the projected construction timeline; it's estimated that it'll take about two-and-a-half years to complete the structure. Save Coldwater Canyon! says that this will lead to major congestion in the area. "During the years of construction, road closures and delays would bring traffic to a grinding halt. If the garage is allowed to be built, a net increase of over 500 cars would routinely drive Coldwater — adding to the rush hour commute and creating even worse traffic delays and congestion," the group claims on its site.

The opposition isn't only focused on the matter of traffic. Environmental conservancy groups such as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Sierra Club have voiced concern over the ecological impacts of the structure. Providing public comment on the project, Barry Katzen, chair of the Sierra Club, said in a letter that the trees that are slated for removal (if the project were to proceed) should go untouched. "The 147 trees should be protected. 90% of the trees are in condition that leads to the expectation that they will survive many more years if left on the site," said the letter. An environment impact report, however, refutes this claim, saying that about 78% of the walnut trees on the development site are infected with what's known as thousand cankers disease, a malady that's perpetuated by the presence of both fungus and beetles.

Betty Courtney, program manager at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, signed a letter saying that the department was concerned about the structure's impact on local wildlife. "It is preferred that habitat is avoided rather than implementing costly mitigation efforts - with no guarantee of success - to mitigate for loss of habitat from the project," said the letter, which also urged for the construction to take place during times that don't coincide with the mating season of birds.

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As noted at Curbed, even L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne has chimed in, calling the pedestrian bridge "anti-urban" in a Tweet:

Harvard-Westlake, in explaining its support for the plan, has pointed to a number benefits for its students. The increase of parking spaces, the school says, will bolster campus security: "Every school day, Harvard-Westlake students walk up and down Coldwater Canyon from vehicles parked on nearby streets to campus. The [project] stops this dangerous practice." The school also refutes the notion that the plans would have no benefit to the local area. It notes that the project will add a new through lane on Coldwater Canyon, as well as three dedicated turn lanes going in and out of the parking structure to ease traffic flow in the area. It also claims that the structure will help eliminate school bus parking on Coldwater Canyon, which the school frames as a positive for freeing up traffic. The project "continues Harvard-Westlake’s longstanding tradition of being a good neighbor in Studio City," says the school.

The Planning Commission could make a decision on the project as soon as Sept. 28, Cheryl Getuiza, a spokesperson for the Planning Department, told the Daily News. She added that appeals may prolong the process, however.

LAist reached out to the front office at Harvard Westlake, but no one was immediately available for comment.