As the residents and merchants of downtown Playa del Rey brace themselves for potential future development, the twin themes of parking and traffic still generate the most heat and intensity among the denizens of the seaside community.

Plans for a community design overlay (CDO) that will govern new development for the area have been underway on and off for the last few years. But the dearth of parking for visitors and potential clients to the community’s businesses was not discussed during the most recent community meetings of the design plan.

The community design committee, which met to finalize the overlap plan April 30, did not address parking and traffic solutions because typically these community plans tend to focus on signage, architectural features, color schemes and other esthetic details, said Daisy Allen, the UCLA graduate student who led this year’s meetings.

“By definition, it does not regulate any changes to the public realm such as street designation and permitted parking, and does not involve creating a new parking plan for the neighborhood,” Allen wrote in an email. “These are all valid issues that can be discussed, but a (community design committee) is not the appropriate planning tool to address those types of issues.”

Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, in an effort to find a solution for some of “lower” Playa’s homeowners, petitioned the California Coastal Commission for a permit parking district in 2010. The commissioners denied the councilman’s request, ruling that permit parking would interfere with beach access. The commission has jurisdiction 1,000 feet from the ocean.

With one development project in the works and three others pending, creating sufficient parking could become even more urgent for lower Playa soon. Legado Companies is planning two projects near the corner of Vista del Mar and Culver Boulevard, the community’s main thoroughfare and a designated secondary highway.

The real estate firm has submitted a traffic study for Playa Legado, a mixed-use project with approximately 16,000 square feet of retail space and over 72 ocean view residences at 138 Culver Blvd., the site of a triangular shaped parcel known to local residents as “Jake’s Lot.”

In order to build at the triangle site, the developer is required to make modifications along Vista del Mar, Pacific Avenue and Culver, according to planning documents obtained by The Argonaut.

These modifications include street widening and restriping of Culver at Nicholson Street and installing a second left-hand turn signal at the intersection, which has been the site of a number of fatalities in recent years.

Eddie Guerrero, a transportation engineer with the city’s Department of Transportation, said Legado would not be able to build their projects without adhering to the aforementioned conditions.

“These are the requirements in order for this project to go forward,” Guerrero said.

Legado can begin to build before completing the traffic improvements, but will not be granted a certificate of occupancy for 138 Culver Blvd. until the city determines that they have been implemented to the department’s satisfaction, Guerrero said.

“They would have to submit a guarantee with the Planning Department that they would do the work before they could start construction,” he said.

Rosendahl has also pledged to examine whether or not Culver’s designation as a secondary highway can be changed. Several residents have complained for years that speeding motorists from the South Bay have used their community as a raceway and an alternate route to the Westside.

Residents and business owners are as divided on the pending developments and whether they would be to lower Playa’s benefit as much as they are about traffic and parking solutions.

Differing traffic and parking plans for downtown Playa del Rey have surfaced during recent discussions about the need to craft design guidelines for the beachside community. In an earlier version of a community overlay, one plan that was floated would have allowed parking in Titmouse Park and drew interest from some lower Playa merchants but was soundly rejected by others who feared losing the park.

A city Department of Recreation and Parks spokeswoman said there was only one way that the park could be used as a parking lot.

“If it were part of a renovation of the park and the purpose was to add spaces for the public to use Titmouse Park, that might be a possibility,” Jane Kolb told The Argonaut. “But not if it were just to add more parking for Playa del Rey.”

Another plan that received some support called for diagonal parking along Culver and turning the boulevard into a one-way thoroughfare, which public safety experts said would create a potentially disastrous situation for first-responders if there was an accident, fire or emergency at one end of the boulevard.

Others, including planning experts, rejected the diagonal plan because the boulevard is not wide enough to accommodate that particular style of parking.

There are 49 parking spots along the boulevard, plus several more behind Gordon’s Market near the entrance to the Ballona Wetlands. In addition, there are spaces in the residential neighborhoods that surround nearby Del Rey Lagoon at the end of the street, as well as at a city park next to the lagoon.

Rosendahl’s office is slated to schedule a community meeting soon to hear proposals and potential solutions for traffic and parking, now that the last public meeting for the community overlay has taken place.

Chad Lynn, Beverly Hills’ parking director, perhaps summed up best how many communities – including the various factions that coexist in lower Playa – feel about parking woes and challenges at a meeting on traffic and parking for downtown Playa two years ago.

“Parking isn’t rocket science,” he said. “It’s much more than that… it’s emotion.”

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