A redevelopment proposal for Villa Venetia, located at the south end of Fiji Way in Marina del Rey, garnered a large, angry crowd opposed to the redevelopment and the putting at risk of herons nesting near the development, at a Marina del Rey Design Control Board Thursday, August 31st.

The special night meeting drew an audience of over 100 people at the Burton Chace Park Community Building in Marina del Rey.

Richard Fine, the attorney for The Coalition to Save the Marina, questioned why the Design Control Board was even listening to the presentation for Villa Venetia when Los Angeles County Counsel Tom Faughnan had previously told the board it was there in an advisory capacity only, not a decision-making capacity.

Fine said that this brings up the real question. If, according to the California Public Resources Code, an environmental impact report is necessary, it is considered necessary that this informational document to be viewed by every public agency as it goes through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“Why are we all here going through this exercise when we have to go through the environmental impact report (EIR) first regarding building height, the environment and wind factors?” Fine asked.

“Maybe this exercise should be done after the EIR is considered, as there may be items that can’t be mitigated, and must first be approved by CEQA, and the Design Control Board could consider the project later,” Fine said.

Frank Angel, an environmental attorney representing The Coalition to Save the Marina, said that the applicant’s presentation of Villa Venetia focused on one set of guidelines, not the Land Use Plan which is part of the Marina del Rey Local Coastal Plan, which includes an overlooked element requiring a building height of 45 feet for developments.

Fiji Way is considered a mole road, and mole road parcels with views, mole road ends and all adjacent parcels require a height limitation of 45 feet, according to Angel.

“The whole design (for the redevelopment of Villa Venetia) is a non-starter,” said Angel, asking, “Why would this project be sent to the California Coastal Commission when the developers know it won’t pass?”

The certified Land Use Plan calls for all applicants to provide evidence consistent with all Land Use Plan requirements, Angel said.

The Design Control Board is being treated like a stepchild and should have access to the EIR just as other agencies do, said Angel.

Testimony regarding the potential destruction of the great blue heron rookery at Villa Venetia brought an emotional outpouring of anger from the audience and public comment speakers.

Uprooting the nesting palm trees of the great blue heron would be an ecological tragedy, said David De Lange, vice president of the Coalition to Save the Marina.

The nests in these palm trees were rebuilt after the previous owner of Villa Venetia had nesting trees destroyed with chain saws, said DeLange.

The six fan palms comprise a group of four and a group of two trees on the edge of the structure proposed to be redeveloped at Villa Venetia, and they are a year-round rookery at this point, DeLange said.

Villa Venetia resident and photographer Peter Mitchell referred to a letter to the Design Control Board written by Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors director Stan Wisniewski dated August 8th this year.

Mitchell said Wisniewski’s letter stated that:

-“Significant portions of the trees are dying (one tree) and as the trees’ canopy dies the trees will be less useful to the herons.”

– “In addition, the biologist notes that while these herons are relatively tolerant of humans, a better location away from human interactions would benefit the birds.”

– “Removal of the trees on the project site is not anticipated to have an adverse effect on the heronry and there are only six nests at Villa Venetia.”

– “The birds and their guano will continue to interfere with the public’s use of the site.”

– “However, for the purposes of the DCB [Design Control Board] review, the trees are to be removed from the site.”

Mitchell said he was very upset because Wisniewski is a county employee who is supposed to protect beaches and harbors.

Representatives from the UCLA boat house, 20 feet behind Villa Venetia, are concerned about the baby birds and that safety is an issue regarding traffic, parking and bicyclists who cut through the existing Villa Venetia development.

John Hodder, director of the California Wetlands Research, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of wetlands, said he wrote a letter to biologist Dr. Jeffrey Froke, who is a consultant to Lyon Capital Venture, the applicant for Villa Venetia, offering his assistance in putting together a report on the herons.

Hodder took exception to Froke’s report on the herons, as did DeLange, Mitchell, Robert “Roy” van de Hoek — who himself is a biologist and bird expert who has authored a report on herons — and many audience members, claiming that Froke’s report didn’t accurately reflect the breeding times and general habits of the herons.

Hodder said Froke’s data made wide generalizations and didn’t provide storable hard data.

Froke was asked by Design Control Board chair Susan Cloke to speak, to allow him to defend his report.

Froke said his report covered a very short period and would be rewritten.

Hodder told the audience that he has had the opportunity for many contracts paid for by developers motivated by profits, and he has had to deny studies after considering what the end result would be.

“If you don’t police yourself as a consulting biologist, you end up with the ire of the community,” said Hodder.

Another issue with the redevelopment of Villa Venetia is the fact that the cost to live there would be too high, and several residents, including a doctor, said they would be “among the homeless” because the rents would be too exorbitant and the development would be catering to the wealthy.

The Villa Venetia redevelopment project on a 6.39-acre parcel proposes 479 dwelling units on the site, which represents a net increase of 255 dwelling units over the existing development.

The project includes:

– three buildings that would contain 479 new units (263 apartments and 216 condominium units);

– an expansive central landscaped plaza;

– two levels of appurtenant covered parking (1,047 spaces);

– recreational facilities, including a pool and health club/ gym;

– visitor and resident-serving waterfront retail (less than 3,000 square feet); and

– a new boat anchorage (21 to 34 slips) and accessible boating-related facilities.

Cloke said she wants to see a massing model of the project from several different viewpoints.

She also said she wants to know how the county would respond if the project changes due to the nesting herons.

She added that the next meeting for the applicants to present their proposal would be a night meeting — 6:30 p.m. Thursday, October 26th, at the Burton Chace Park Community Building, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey.

A daytime meeting of the Marina del Rey Design Control Board was held on Wednesday, August 30th, for approval of the record of previously approved actions, as well as for staff reports by the county.

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