But community opinion remains divided — and heated — over concerns about density and traffic

By Gary Walker

An architect’s rendering of the proposed Abbot Kinney Hotel, as seen behind Joe’s from the corner of Broadway Street and Abbot Kinney Boulevard

An architect’s rendering of the proposed Abbot Kinney Hotel, as seen behind Joe’s from the corner of Broadway Street and Abbot Kinney Boulevard

Community debate over filmmaker Dan Abrams’ plan to build an 85-room hotel along a popular stretch of Abbot Kinney Boulevard reached a crescendo on Feb. 18, when Abrams and his opponents squared off during a meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

Nearly 400 people — the largest turnout for a meeting of the council in recent memory — packed the auditorium of Westminster Avenue Elementary School, where elected members of the advisory body ultimately lent their support to the project in a narrow 9-7 vote.

The frontage of Abrams’ Abbot Kinney Hotel would be located directly across the street from the school and interspersed among existing buildings on the block, including Joe’s restaurant, Primitivo Wine Bistro, Venice Place and the Second Community Baptist Church. Dr. Jerry’s Garden would remain a publicly accessible courtyard, but Willie Jane would be replaced with a larger hotel restaurant, according to Abrams.

The project next goes before the city’s Planning Department and then to the Los Angeles City Council for final approval. Because it is located in a state-designated coastal zone, the California Coastal Commission must also approve the final design of the nearly 33-foot hotel.

During last week’s meeting, passions so ran high that council vice president Marc Saltzberg —who ran the meeting after president Linda Lucks recused herself from voting because Abrams has donated money to her employer — frequently paused proceedings to ask audience members to calm down.

“Folks, I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room if you don’t settle down,” Saltzberg warned several times.

Abrams began his remarks to the council by telling them he was not a developer — a familiar theme he’s repeated during community meetings leading up to the vote.

“I live in our community and I care about it,” said Abrams, who has lived in Venice and kept an office above Primitivo for 10 years. “Our aspiration is that [the project] becomes a community benefit that’s good to its employees and gives back to the community.”

Abrams has said he bought his office and much of the surrounding block to preserve the area from a complete tear-down for new development and must make improvements to recoup the purchase price.

Local artist and film editor Marta Evry, an ardent opponent of the project, countered Abrams and his architect on virtually every part of their presentation and challenged a council committee’s findings on the project.

“The proposed hotel is not in scale of the existing neighborhood,” she concluded.

Evry talked for 15 minutes, leading Saltzberg to offer Abbot Kinney Hotel proponents additional time to respond. Several in the crowd took umbrage, accusing him of favoritism.

While Abrams’ plan has many vocal opponents, a number of residents who back Abrams’ proposal said it would contribute to the boulevard’s character as a destination area for locals and tourists alike.

“Venice is a place of dynamic change. And the dynamic that is happening now is what’s always happened here,” said Jack Hoffman, owner of the Venice Properties real estate brokerage.

“I believe in Dan Abrams and I think he has the community’s best interest at heart,” said Venice resident Rachel McDonald, a film and television director. She also said the meeting was “the most exciting night that I’ve ever experienced in Venice” due to the energy and tension in the auditorium.

Opponent David Garcia, who lives near Abbot Kinney, said he fears an unsustainable increase in traffic along an already busy thoroughfare.

“The more that you build, the more you create congestion,” Garcia said.

“There’s a lot to like about this hotel, but the thing that we need to look at is the fallout of lot consolidation,” added Carolyn Rìos, a resident of Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood for more than four decades and a former member of the Venice Neighborhood Council. “It’s not going to work in the long run.”

The council’s endorsement of the Abbot Kinney hotel came with several conditions, including a ban on trucks making deliveries along Abbot Kinney or during Westminster Avenue Elementary student arrival and departure times and a guarantee of free parking for all hotel guests and employees to keep them parking on neighborhood streets.

Despite all the passion in the room, some attendees didn’t have strong feelings wither way.

“I was worried about a lot of the same things that a lot of the opponents were, but I feel like what [Abrams] has in mind is not that bad,” said marketing consultant Regan Kibbee.

But Kibbee is concerned about traffic on Electric Avenue, where the hotel’s entrance would be.

Venice Neighborhood Council member Thomas Elliott said the decision on the hotel was “the most difficult since I’ve been on the neighborhood council.” He ultimately threw his support to Abrams.

“I just cannot agree to a zero growth policy in Venice,” said Elliot, who owns the Venice Alehouse on Windward Avenue.

Development of the site is “inevitable, and it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘how big.’ I viewed the current proposal as far more in scale and in character than many of the others I’ve seen previously,” Elliot said. “In the end, I decided to cast my vote first and foremost as a resident of Venice, since I’ve lived up or down the street from this project site for the past 25 years.”

Council member Tommy Walker, who voted against the project, said he wasn’t worried that defeat of Abrams’ plan could lead to even larger future development plans.

“I’m not worried about what our constituents might think years from now. I have constituents who are saying right now that they’re against this hotel,” Walker said.

Gary(at)argonautnews.com

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