The Los Angeles City Council has signed off on a proposal from Mitsui Fudosan America (MFA) to construct a high-rise building across the street from the Figat7th shopping center in Downtown Los Angeles.

The project, which would replace a parking lot at the northeast corner of Eighth and Figueroa Streets, calls for the construction of a 41-story tower featuring 438 apartments - including studio, one-, and two-bedroom units - with approximately 7,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space.  The proposed development would also create a mid-block crosswalk along Figueroa, providing a more direct pedestrian connection to the mall across the street.

The City Council considered two appeals of the project, which was approved in January by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.

The first appellant, the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters echoed past arguments to the Planning Commission, alleging that the Eighth and Figueroa development's environmental impact report is flawed.  A representative of the union urged the committee to delay the project to compel the use of prevailing wage labor.  The appeal was denied in full.

Representatives of other labor unions, operating under the umbrella of CREED LA, spoke in favor of the Eighth and Figueroa development.  CREED has previously appealed the project, but reached an agreement with MFA prior to the hearing and dropped its opposition.

The second appeal, which came from MFA itself, sought to overturn conditions of approval placed on the project by the Planning Commission.

The most tangible change to the project is to the design of the building's podium.  In recent months, Commissioners have required project applicants to better conceal above-grade parking structures, particularly for developments at prominent locations on major thoroughfares.  Architecture firm Johnson Fain responded by redesigning the podium of the Eighth and Figueroa tower with an enclosed glass system - consistent with the materials used on the building's main trunk - integrated with an array of LED lights.  

Glass parapets have also been added to the tower's rooftop perimeter, allowing for an up-lit cornice which relates to the podium facade.  Though this alteration does not provide a sculpted rooftop, as requested by the City Planning Commissioners, a staff report found that the design changes sufficiently comply with their instructions.

The Planning Commission also voted to approve the project on the condition that five percent of its residential units should be set aside for rent or purchase by low-income households - amounting to 22 dwellings.  The project, which does not require legislative actions or density bonus incentives, had not originally been subjected to an on-site affordability requirement.  An attorney representing MFA argued that the condition imposed by the Planning Commission was illegal, and that a more appropriate action would be to earmark the project's transfer of floor area payment for affordable housing development.

The committee, following a closed session meeting, voted to remove the condition.

“We are pleased with the City Council’s PLUM subcommittee approval of our Eighth & Figueroa project and look forward to the start of construction," said Staurt Morkun, Vice President of Development for Mitsui Fudosan America in a statement.  "We are gratified that 100% of the project’s Transfer Floor Area Rights payment can be used to support affordable housing throughout Los Angeles and with half specifically dedicated to the City Council District 14 area.”

A similar debate came about earlier this year, when the City Planning Commission voted that the developer of a 725-unit apartment complex in Chinatown should provide on-site affordable housing as a condition of approval.  That project, which would replace a vacant lot near Los Angeles State Historic Park, was not required to set-aside units for lower-income renters when initially submitted to the city in 2012.  The City Council later voted removed that condition of approval, instead allowing for developer Atlas Capital to provide an in-lieu payment.

MFA, the American affiliate of Japanese developer Mitsui Fudosan, has owned the parking lot at Eighth and Figueroa since the 1980s, and once considered building an office tower on the site.  The company also owns a parking structure two blocks east at 8th and Hope Streets, and intends to redevelop the property with a 45-story, 547-unit apartment building.