Legado Companies, a real estate group that is planning to build a series of development projects in Playa del Rey, does not believe that an environmental review will be necessary for Culver Boulevard and the surrounding area, according to Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office.
Representatives of the councilman, whose district includes Playa del Rey, confirmed that Derek Jones, the real estate development firm’s chief executive officer, has indicated in previous conversations that the company does not feel that such an analysis is necessary.
According to the company’s website there are two projects in the works for Playa del Rey: Legado Del Mar, which is slated to have 29 beachfront homes and 4,000 square feet of retail on a three-acre site near the beach, and Playa Legado, a mixed-use project with approximately 16,000 square feet of retail and over 72 ocean view residences at the site of the triangular shaped parcel known to locals as “Jake’s Lot.”
Jones has said both projects will not reach higher than 45 feet and the company will not be requesting any variances.
“I strongly believe that an EIR is necessary,” Rosendahl said. “We will make it very clear to the developer that we will be pushing in a very strong and united manner that an environmental review and a traffic study should be a part of any negotiations for my constituents and the business owners in downtown Playa del Rey.”
Cheryl Burnett, who represents Playa del Rey on the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, expressed disbelief about the possibility that Legado would conduct no environmental review.
“I would be shocked if the developer did not have to conduct a full EIR on the proposed project at Jake’s Lot,” said Burnett, who lives within blocks of downtown Playa del Rey. “He has three major projects he is considering all within blocks of each other in lower Playa del Rey.”
Burnett was referring to another plot of land near Toes Beach at the end of Culver that Legado has purchased and has previously displayed drawings with a project in mind for the parcel.
Former Councilwoman Ruth Galanter said city planners would likely look at existing land use data and planning documents to determine if and when any environmental review is needed.
“A lot of what the city will look for will depend on what the community overlay committee comes up with,” Galanter told The Argonaut. “One question is, does adopting the community design overlay require environmental review?”
The news that Legado may not think city planners need to conduct an EIR for their proposed projects comes on the eve of the final discussions of a community design overlay for downtown Playa del Rey by a group of community members and Daisy Allen, a UCLA graduate student. The planning document will be part of the blueprint that will govern future development along the boulevard.
Members of the design overlay team will be meeting with the public Monday, April 30 in Westchester to put the finishing touches on the plan before it is forwarded to the city Planning Department for review.
Galanter, who teaches environmental planning and policy in the urban studies department at Loyola Marymount University, said resolving certain problems that often play a factor in any environmental analysis – such as traffic patterns – is a dicey situation in Playa del Rey.
“The problem with Culver Boulevard is there is no place else for South Bay traffic to go,” said the former councilwoman, who represented many of the current neighborhoods of Council District 11 in what was then Council District 6 until 2002.
Burnett said the planned developments will change the complexion of her town and its residents and merchants deserve to know how they might be adversely affected by the consequences of Legado’s projects.
“It would be unthinkable, given the scope of the combined impact, not to study fully the traffic, parking, environmental and quality-of-life impacts that could result from this amount of construction in such a small area adjacent to the beach,” she asserted. “Local residents have a right to understand the magnitude of what is proposed, what the consequences of that development would be, and what mitigation is intended if these projects move forward.”
Galanter, who is not affiliated with either side of the planned developments, said virtually every situation that is addressed can often lead to another challenge in downtown Playa del Rey.
“With new developments, you can require the developer to put in enough parking onsite,” she said. “But that could create problems for existing businesses that don’t have any parking or have very little.”
Rosendahl said he expects that a complete EIR for the area will be conducted for a variety of reasons.
“The cumulative effect of these three projects is significant,” the councilman said. “The community is expecting a full-on environmental review and I strongly believe that should happen.”
Residents and merchants in lower Playa del Rey are somewhat divided on the pending developments in their coastal community. While many in the latter groups have expressed the belief that additional businesses would attract tourists and visitors to their downtown area, a group of longtime residents have spoken vociferously against Legado or other developers building any new projects.
In a letter to the editor last month, Playa del Rey resident Jennifer Kearney expressed her concerns about the Legado projects. “How can plans move forward to develop the area more, bring in more people, more businesses, more traffic and yet still neglect the basic parking concerns that the community has been asking to be addressed for years?” she wrote.
City officials have not granted any permits for construction as of yet.
Broker Steven Matilla, who owns ERA Matilla Realty on Culver Boulevard, says he favors having new development as long as it is in compliance with the California Coastal Commission and city Department of Building and Safety regulations. He also feels that the developer should not be subjected to a long environmental process.
“I’m very pro-development,” the broker said. “I think Legado has done enough mitigation, and I don’t think that a project with 72 units is going to affect traffic that much.”
Galanter, who faced intense opposition with the Playa Vista development when she was on the City Council, is not surprised there are residents who are opposing Legado’s projects.
“No matter what the proposal looks like, someone will be against the project,” she said. “Sometimes for legitimate reasons, and sometimes not.”
Matilla and other merchants in downtown Playa see the Legado projects as the vehicles on which their community could be transformed into a place where more people want to come to the beach, visit the Ballona Wetlands and patronize local businesses.
“I look at these developments as only enhancing the community,” he said.
Galanter said it would be very difficult for all sides to be satisfied with the outcome and she would not be surprised if a similar situation that occurred during the Playa Vista wars happened in downtown Playa del Rey.
“No matter the level of involvement and accommodation, there will always be someone who is unhappy and who might file a lawsuit,” she said. “In my experience, development on the Westside is always contentious.”
Burnett thinks not pursuing an EIR will further exacerbate an already tenuous situation with a group of residents who live near the boulevard and the developer. “It could be a turning point for a lot of people who are still willing to give (Legado) the benefit of the doubt,” she said.
Jones did not return repeated calls for comment on the EIR proposal.
The community plan will not include recommendations for traffic and parking. Rosendahl’s office has pledged to organize a meeting on those topics soon.