As the members of a community design overlay committee map out the final plans for future development in Playa del Rey, their collective gaze is being cast toward Los Angeles City Hall, where they hope their vision will be more than just a collection of unofficial planning documents and a host of well-intentioned ideas.
Members of the committee have been meeting and strategizing for several months in an effort to establish a set of guidelines that will be in place when a trio of pending developments along Culver Boulevard get underway in the near future.
They will be putting the finishing touches on the planning document at a Wednesday, March 21 meeting at the Westchester Municipal Building Community Room, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
A UCLA urban planning graduate student, Daisy Allen, is spearheading the group.
“A community design overlay is usually drafted by a Planning Department staff member who runs a series of community stakeholder meetings,” Allen explained. “In this case, the Planning Department is short on resources so (Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s) office came up with the creative solution of retaining a graduate student to run these meetings as part of my thesis project.”
The final document that the committee produces will be called a “community-based downtown Playa del Rey community design overlay,” Allen said, and will be submitted to the Planning Department.
“Once the Planning Department has finalized the document, the ‘downtown Playa del Rey CDO’ will become an official supplement to the Westchester/Playa Community Plan,” she added.
Real estate firm Legado Companies is planning to build two projects near Culver and Vista Del Mar, the first developments that the area known to local residents as “Lower Playa del Rey” will have in at least 30 years.
For that reason, as well as others, Playa del Rey resident Cheryl Burnett believes in the importance of the design committee’s plan and the urgency of its efforts to make certain that as much community input as possible goes into the final document.
“If we continue to not have any standards for development on Culver Boulevard, we are ceding our ability to decide what we want our community to be for the foreseeable future,” Burnett told The Argonaut.
The first project will be at a parcel of land known to locals as Jake’s Lot at the corner of Vista del Mar and Culver. The plan is to build a mixed-use project with approximately 16,000 square feet of retail and over 72 ocean view residences at the site with a maximum height of 45 feet, according to Derek Jones, Legado’s chief operating officer.
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 March 21 meeting will focus on a variety of topics, including how the planning document will relate to the nearby Ballona Wetlands. But Allen said two of the most important matters that Playa del Rey residents have complained about for years will likely be front and center that night.
“Parking and traffic issues are absolutely this community’s number-one concern regarding future development along Culver Boulevard,” she said. “In terms of parking, most community members feel that there is not enough parking currently available to support even the current visitors to Culver Boulevard.”
Burnett, who lives within a few blocks of downtown Playa del Rey, said the twin themes of traffic and parking have been the most difficult to balance for the community.
“Because these issues have been raised so frequently and so passionately, we will be addressing them as much as possible (on March 21),” said Burnett, who is a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa.
Burnett raised the possibility of having Culver Boulevard’s current designation changed from being a secondary highway, which she thinks would open up more possibilities for her community’s most heavily traveled thoroughfare.
“I think that it would have a dramatic effect on Culver Boulevard,” she said. “It would allow us to create bicycle lanes and possibly widen the sidewalks.”
Lance Williams, who owns Playa Vista Florists on Culver, lost at least four parking spaces and a loading dock in front of his business when the city installed a crosswalk along the boulevard, so parking is a very important topic for him.
“Many of the business owners on the boulevard are in favor of having an alley behind our businesses that would allow us to have parking for our employees,” he said. “Having accessible parking for customers is critical because without that, not many people are stopping here.”
Rosendahl said his office would look into the possibility of having the designation changed.
“A secondary highway is a significant route and it has caused a huge traffic problem in Playa del Rey,” he 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.”
Burnett said she and others have been toiling on the proposed standards for their neighborhood for many months and would like to see them adhered to as the community faces new changes.
“I would hope that potential developers will respect the planning document that the community has worked so hard on for a very long time,” she said. “We know that there is potential development on the horizon and in the face of these new developments, we need to come together as a community to forge a consensus on what we want our neighborhood to look like.”
Jones said his company is willing to work with the residents and business owners in downtown Playa del Rey on development guidelines.
“We categorically support efforts to define community standards,” he said. “We hope to have a significant role in advancing these discussions about how to achieve the balance of preserving quality of life with (pending developments).”
Rosendahl, who represents Playa del Rey, said he would like to see the design overlay committee’s work incorporated into the final planning document that will create development standards in the coastal community’s downtown area.
“I do not want Planning to unilaterally change anything without community input (on the design plan) first,” the councilman asserted.
A previous design committee that was created by the local neighborhood council two years ago began with a lot of promise but eventually fizzled out without any concrete recommendations.
Burnett attributes the new committee’s advancements to Rosendahl’s office being more involved this time. “I think that is one of the main differences, as well as having someone (like Allen) who has been really dedicated to writing this (design overlay),” she said.
Deciding on what is best for everyone along the three-block stretch has not been without its share of controversy.
Rosendahl asked another group of residents of Lower Playa to be part of the discussions, but they have largely been silent on what they want to see along the boulevard.
“The only thing that they’re sure about is that they don’t want to see anything built here,” said a design committee member who requested anonymity due to the leader of the citizen group’s connection with the council office. “They want to fight the development and get what they can for their own block.”
The decision to create a second group stems largely from a sentiment in the neighborhoods around Culver that the neighborhood council has not displayed any interest in their needs and has almost exclusively backed large developers and their projects in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
Burnett sees the March 21 meeting in some ways as the high point of the community discussions about the coming changes along Culver and how residents have had the opportunity to help shape the boulevard’s future.
“It’s the culmination of the process that the community has been involved in for so many months for establishing guidelines and standards for Culver Boulevard,” she said.
Jones has attended some of the community meetings related to the planning process along Culver Boulevard. “He has expressed his support and interest in the (design overlay),” Allen said.
Jones said Legado hopes its projects will reflect the architectural tastes regarding colors and materials on the boulevard. “We embrace the opportunity to be a part of the ongoing community discussion,” he added.
The councilman agrees that the time to act is now for his constituents who want to have a hand in designing the future of the downtown area. “If there’s going to be development, now is the time to talk about what they want there,” he said.
For Allen, she has had the unique opportunity as a graduate student to run the community meetings, help draft a community design plan and learn firsthand about urban planning. The graduate student said she enjoyed working on what could be the beginning part of a governing planning document that sets the tone of development in the coastal community for decades.
“This has been a wonderful experience for me,” she said. “I am happy to be working with a group of people that cares so deeply about the future of their community.”
The Westchester Municipal Building Community Room is at 7166 Manchester Ave., Westchester.