The developer of a mixed-use project to bring additional housing to one of the most popular areas of Del Rey has announced plans to begin construction in the early fall.

Developer Merlone Geier Partners, in partnership with GLJ Partners, are planning to construct a $110 million mixed-use housing project along the 13400 block of Maxella Avenue, adjacent to Lincoln Boulevard and the entrance of the Marina Freeway (State Route 90).

The project will consist of two modern mid-rise buildings containing 244 apartment units, with 10 percent designated as affordable, above 9,000 square feet of retail space. The planned development will rise to a maximum height of 70 feet and provide subterranean and ground level parking.

The property owner, Villa Marina MHRP, touts that the residential project is the only one of its size that is projected to open in the area in the next two years.

The developer has redesigned the project for high-end apartments under a plan that allows for future conversion to condominiums, noted Jim Atkins, managing director of developer Merlone Geier Partners.

Atkins said that for several months, crews have been laying the groundwork for construction with the demolition of former vacant buildings and the relocation of utility lines at the site, which is part of the Villa Marina Marketplace. An official groundbreaking is being planned for sometime in October or early fall, and Atkins said developers are pleased to finally be moving development forward at the “very important corner.”

“We’re excited about bringing this new project on line in Marina del Rey and I think that it will be well received in the marketplace,” Atkins said.

“We’re also excited about putting a couple hundred people back to work,” he added of the construction jobs that will be created, which does not include retail positions or 10 permanent jobs.

Atkins also expressed enthusiasm with the timing of the development’s targeted completion in spring 2012, saying that the market in the Marina del Rey area is already beginning to strengthen with the number of occupancies gradually climbing.

Prior to the recent work at the Villa Marina site, which previously contained a Carl’s Jr., Marie Callender’s and Chan Darette restaurants and Kinko’s, a number of buildings had stood vacant as the former property owner’s plan for a mixed-use project fell through. The new project’s planned ground floor retail space will include a new restaurant and FedEx Office, formerly Kinko’s, which is currently at another part of the shopping center.

Some Del Rey community members had considered the empty buildings to be blight on the community and said they were eager to finally move forward with developing the prime location, which has easy access to shopping and restaurants. The Del Rey Neighborhood Council voted to support Merlone Geier’s proposal in July last year.

“It will immediately enhance the commercial portion of that part of Del Rey. When it’s done we will have a revitalized portion of that shopping center that right now is doing the community no good,” former neighborhood council president Mark Redick said prior to the council’s approval.

Community members also spoke of the jobs that will be provided through the project and Redick has said it will help revitalize the area and increase property values for that part of the community. Atkins said the developer is thankful for the support it has received from the local council and city officials.

“We’re grateful for the support of the Del Rey and Venice neighborhoods, Councilmember (Bill) Rosendahl and the mayor’s office. We couldn’t have proceeded on this project without their support,” he said.

Atkins was quick to point out the benefits of the location, saying that “essentially all you need is within walking distance,” and he believes the project will help enhance that section of the Villa Marina complex along Lincoln Boulevard.

“We think it’s a great use of the site and we think it’s going to do a lot to activate that very important corner,” he said.

But some argue that the housing plan does not offer enough open space among its amenities.

“After reviewing the project and community concerns, I don’t believe this design is pedestrian friendly, family friendly nor does it provide appropriate open space for recreation,” said Del Rey Neighborhood Council Vice President Elizabeth Zamora, who was not on the council during its approval vote.

She claimed that the former businesses at the site struggled primarily because of its location near the Marina Freeway and is leery of the new proposal’s ability to revitalize the area.

“Since the failed retail spaces are being replaced with the same retail use, and the new housing will bring more density and traffic to the area but will not bring any new open space, I fail to see how others think this project will revitalize Del Rey or increase surrounding property values,” she said.

Atkins said green space is offered to residents through a private open space element as well as a pedestrian friendly streetscape environment that includes 15 trees, but acknowledged that the project has an urban design.

“This is a more urban project than a suburban project, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

The apartments average approximately 975 square feet and will feature refined finishes, modern accessories and various amenities, according to Merlone Geier. The developer is seeking LEED Silver certification.

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