The future of how downtown Playa del Rey will look is beginning to take shape as a design overlay committee enters the last round of community meetings to gather recommendations that will be presented to the city’s Planning Department later this year.

A crowd of over 50 people attended a meeting in Westchester March 21 to offer their observations to the committee as it puts the final touches on the draft, which will be a part of the planning documents that will govern new development in Playa del Rey.

Signage, parking, traffic and the nearby Ballona Wetlands were the prime topics of discussion, and residents and business owners of “lower” Playa wasted no time in offering their suggestions on all four.

Daisy Allen, a UCLA urban planning graduate student who has been leading the committee, solicited opinions on the various topics and the recommendations flowed in an orderly fashion.

Members of the audience displayed a shared vision for Culver Boulevard’s future on certain things but were sharply divided on matters such as development and how best to utilize the wetlands as an attraction to lure more visitors to Playa del Rey. Some said the community does not need any development and prefer to keep the town’s quaint and eclectic environment intact.

Businessman David Gordon of Gordon’s Market said that without development, Playa del Rey would remain a ghost town.

Development is already looming. A project is in the process of being constructed near Gordon’s Market at the site of a former religious school, and Legado Companies is planning two projects near the corner of Culver and Vista del Mar.

Suggestions regarding signage included no billboards, no moving, flashing or digital signs and a limit on the number of signs that protrude into the boulevard.

When the conversation turned to traffic and parking, the fissures that exist between the various groups emerged.

A suggestion regarding implementing overnight parking restrictions on the residential streets off of Culver was offered to help alleviate problems associated with the dearth of parking and non-residents parking in front of residences for prolonged periods of time. The California Coastal Commission rejected a plan brought forth last year by Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Playa del Rey, that would have established regulations prohibiting overnight parking on certain streets except by permit.

Nate Kaplan, Rosendahl’s Westchester-Playa deputy, reminded the audience of the commission’s decision. “(Restricted parking) would block coastal access, and the Coastal Commission has jurisdiction 1,000 feet from the beach,” Kaplan explained.

Building a parking structure above and under ground was also proposed.

Allen reminded the audience that parking and traffic are not typically part of a community design overlay’s purview, as it is controlled largely by a municipal Department of Transportation.

Marcia Hanscom, who two years ago offered a traffic plan that featured diagonal parking and converting the boulevard into a one-way thoroughfare, urged the committee to take action sooner than later on tackling the traffic problems on Culver.

“Soon the speed limit will be increasing, and then it will be too late to do anything,” said Hanscom, who lives near the wetlands in Playa del Rey.

Residents have long complained about vehicles speeding through their downtown boulevard on the way to the Westside or the South Bay and potential solutions to that persistent dilemma have seemed to be fleeting. Culver Boulevard is designated as a secondary highway, but Rosendahl’s office has pledged to work on having the designation changed.

“A secondary highway is a significant route and it has caused a huge traffic problem in Playa del Rey,” Rosendahl said. “I certainly want to explore every possible aspect to see what we can do for the business owners and my Playa del Rey constituents.”

Allen feels the possible designation change on the boulevard has its pros as well as cons. “I think that Culver Boulevard would greatly benefit from changes such as diagonal parking and wider sidewalks, because these improvements would give the downtown area more of a ‘village’ feel,” she said in an interview after the meeting.

“On the other hand, there is a lot of commuter traffic coming through Culver Boulevard from the South Bay, and changing the road designation and introducing traffic calming measures here might have an adverse effect of adding even more traffic to an already-congested area.”

Kaplan announced that Rosendahl has applied for pedestrian safety grants for several of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares in his district, including Culver Boulevard, from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Administration. The grants are designed to improve pedestrian safety in a city or county, create safe, accessible environments for pedestrians and enhance the walkability and economic vitality of local districts.

Derek Jones, Legado’s chief operating officer, attended the meeting and briefly took questions from the audience regarding his company’s plans for downtown Playa del Rey.

“To me, it’s encouraging that community stakeholders are willing to put in the time to think about what they want their community to look like, how they want it to function,” Jones told The Argonaut after the meeting. “As a major stakeholder in lower Playa del Rey, we take very seriously the input from the community, whether it’s specific to our projects or relative to the overall look and feel of Playa del Rey.

“We’re excited to be a part of it, and we look forward to more productive conversations like this.”

Legado plans to build a mixed-use project with approximately 16,000 square feet of retail and over 72 ocean view residences with a maximum height of 45 feet at the site known as Jake’s Lot.

The real estate company is also planning another project across the street, with a restaurant and commercial use at the site of the popular Tanner’s coffee shop.

The design overlay committee has been meeting since last summer and has been collecting data and suggestions from Playa del Rey residents as to how they would like their community – specifically the downtown area – to look over the next several decades.

Rosendahl has indicated that he would like to see the standards that the committee recommends for development in lower Playa del Rey in the city’s final planning documents.

“I do not want Planning to unilaterally change anything without community input (on the design plan) first,” the councilman asserted.

Jones said Legado’s proposal would be compliant with the height limits that correspond with zoning regulations in Playa del Rey.

Allen said the March 21 forum had the largest turnout of all of the previous meetings. She anticipated that the twin topics of traffic and parking would be among the evening’s most passionate.

“It was challenging to facilitate this discussion, because most of the traffic and parking changes that community members desire are out of the realm of what a (community design overlay) can accomplish,” she said. “I hope that this meeting has catalyzed a new effort to address parking and traffic issues in this community.”

Jones said that he could not predict when his first project might come before the City Council, but indicated that his company would like to get started soon.

“We’re hoping to be in a position to turn a shovel later this year on the triangle,” he said.

Rosendahl’s office plans to organize a public forum specifically designed to address area parking and traffic in April.

The committee’s draft plan for downtown Playa del Rey will be posted on the Westchester/Playa del Rey website for review next month and a final community meeting on the design plan will take place in late April or May.

The final draft will be submitted in May to the Planning Department, which will develop and produce the final planning document.

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