Village Ctr. project asks for time out

Smedra sez move could push project back by as much as 60 days

One of two planned retail and cinema complexes vying for the potentially lucrative Westwood market has taken itself out of the city-approval process indefinitely.

On May 27, attorney Werner Wolfen, top legal advisor to the Village Center Westwood, wrote Los Angeles city councilman Michael Feuer asking that four upcoming hearing dates for the project be taken “off-calendar.”

The letter, which did not specify a date for future hearings, said the developers were “in the process of conducting final internal analysis of the Project. Until we have fully digested the results of such analysis, it would be premature to conduct final negotiations with the city.”

Wolfen, of the Century City firm Irell & Manella, did not return phone calls. However, Village Center Westwood developer Ira Smedra said the postponement was requested because the project had not yet received three agreements from the city.

Those documents are a library agreement, covering a public library space which the complex is providing to the city, a parking mitigation agreement and an overall development agreement.

“You want to know exactly what the deal is; you want the documents done, before you go to council,” said Smedra, who estimated the move would set the approval process back by 15 to 60 days.

However, Councilman Feuer, who is on record as supporting the Village Center Westwood, said he didn’t believe the three agreements posed a serious obstacle to the hearing process. “I think they need to be completed by the very end of the process, but work can continue without them,” Feuer said.

Instead, Feuer said he believed the main reason for the request to cancel the hearings was the death last month of Jack Ostrow, a key financial advisor to the project and a longtime business associate and personal friend of Wolfen.

Ostrow was a financial advisor to a number of major Hollywood players, including A&M Records founders Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who are investors in the Village Center Westwood.

“The team has a lot of very astute members, but they have to take a step back in light in of Mr. Ostrow’s death,” said Feuer.

Despite that, Feuer insisted the hearings may still go on as planned. “I don’t know whether the hearings will be continued for several months or not,” he told Daily Variety Monday. “We’re in the process of talking to the planning staff as well as with the Village Center Westwood staff.”

But some Westwood observers speculated Wolfen’s letter indicates the development has deeper problems.

“In the 15 years that I’ve been involved in land use, I’ve never seen a project stopped at this stage,” said Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, and a vocal opponent of the complex. “This is a hell of a time to go through an internal review.”

Smedra acknowledged that there is still no final agreement with Pacific Theatres, which has publicly announced its intention to operate theaters in the Village Center Westwood.

“We have a deal letter and final drafts are going back and forth,” said Smedra.