A California Environmental Quality Act judge has ruled in favor of a real estate development firm seeking to build a multi-story tower project near Westchester, in effect clearing the way for the project to continue.

Judge Thomas McKnew found that the Culver City Council did not violate CEQA when it approved the 12-story, 196-foot Entrada Tower project last April, which drew the ire of residents from surrounding communities and has been a hotly debated topic for over a year.

ìThe court finds that the decision to create a ëlandmark building,í permit the ëbest useí of the underutilized property and improve the conditions in the redevelopment area near the 405 Freeway and adjacent to an existing nine-story development is supported by sufficient findings, which are based on substantial evidence in the record,î the judge wrote.

The massive tower project, which is being developed by the Centinela Development Partners, is being proposed at the site of the Radission Hotel on Centinela Avenue in Culver City, across the street from Westchester.

At a Redevelopment Agency meeting last April that lasted until 3 a.m., homeowners from the surrounding neighborhoods joined Culver City residents to protest or ask Culver City leaders to scale back the project, which at one time was proposed to be over 200 feet.

Following the vote, a group of homeowners from Westchester, Del Rey, Ladera Heights and Culver City known as the United Neighbors of the Westside filed a lawsuit against the project, alleging that it violated CEQA. While the proposed project lies within Culver Cityís boundaries, it is within close proximity to Westchester and Del Rey.

The groupís lawyer, Susan Brandt-Hawely, a Santa Rosa environmental attorney, said that members are pondering whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court.

ìWe are very much considering an appeal,î Brandt-Hawley told The Argonaut.

The homeownersí group filed a brief with the court, explaining the need for an injunction of the project.

ìUNOW has no plain, speedy and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Issuance of a writ is needed to avoid irreparable harm to Culver City residents and environs, since otherwise the Entrada project will proceed to development without compliance with CEQA and the municipal code,î the petitionersí brief stated.

United Neighbors was seeking to have the project approval set aside.

McKnew rejected the petitionersí arguments.

ìPetitioners have not established that there was any prejudicial abuse of discretion. Accordingly, (Culver Cityís) decision should be upheld,î the court wrote. ìThe petition is denied.î

Myra Kriwanek, a Westchester resident who lives on the bluff, told The Argonaut that the members of her group are currently discussing their options.

ìWeíre meeting to decide our next step,î she said. ìWe feel strongly about the height of the project and addressing the significant negative impacts of this development to our neighborhoods.î

The size of the proposed tower is another source of anxiety for Westchester bluff property owners, who say that their quality of life will be impacted by the project. Their lawsuit alleged that the towerís height violated Measure One, a Culver City statute approved in the 1990s that limits the height of buildings within the cityís boundaries to 56 feet.

In addition, they believe that additional traffic at the intersection of Sepulveda Boulevard and Centinela Avenue will lead to further congestion for Westchester and nearby Del Rey.

Culver City officials countered that the project is within a redevelopment zone and therefore say that there can be an exception to the height limit, and McKnew agreed with them.

ìThe Culver City Municipal Code, as amended by the initiative, expressly permits an exception for a building in certain redevelopment areas, after the (Community Redevelopment) Agency approves a ëdesign for development,íî the judge wrote in his ruling.

Mark Redick, president of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, believes that Culver Cityís elected representatives did not take into account how the development would affect the neighboring communities of Westchester, Del Rey and Playa Vista.

ìI respect a cityís sovereignty, but consideration had to be given to neighboring communities,î said Redick.

The proposed project drew the attention of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who took the unusual step of writing a letter to Culver City officials to express his concerns.

ìIn the spirit of fostering a collaborative effort between our two cities with respect to smart, regional planning, Iím writing to urge the Culver City Council to take an in-depth look at the proposed Entrada office tower project,î the mayor wrote last April.

ìAlthough located in Culver City, the proposed project site shares three boundaries with Los Angeles. As such, the traffic and demand for public services generated by the proposed building will directly impact Los Angeles and its residents,î he continued.

Villaraigosa also referred to the height of the tower complex.

ìIn addition, the requested variance to Culver Cityís existing height limit of 56 feet to 220 feet will negatively affect the viewershed and aesthetics of the Westchester community,î his letter states.

Redick feels that Culver Cityís council effectively violated its own ordinance.

ìIf I were a resident of Culver City, Iíd be very angry,î he said. ìCulver Cityís elected officials overrode the will of the people.î

The Del Rey Neighborhood Council president reiterated his belief that while he recognizes a cityís right to self-governance, neighboring communities should be mindful of how their decisions can affect others, especially when they may need to work together on regional matters in the future.

ìWhat Entrada, and Culver City, are proposing is not something that a good neighbor would do,î Redick concluded.

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