A three-block stretch of Culver Boulevard, lined with restaurants, specialty stores and popular storefronts in Playa del Rey, will be getting a facelift in the near future.
What the rehabilitation will look like is still anyone’s guess, and that’s what has some community homeowners and merchants worried.
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa has appointed a ten-member ad hoc committee that consists of Playa del Rey business owners and residents to examine what their neighbors in the sun drenched, quiet beach town would like to see happen along their primary thoroughfare. At issue are parking, traffic and neighborhood character concerns, and the local council is also battling the perception that it has not always been very receptive to the needs and opinions of Playa del Rey residents.
Cyndi Hench, the neighborhood council president, says she feels that the group is representative of Playa del Rey interests. She also realizes that there is a belief that the local advisory council would seek to stack the committee with its own members, and that is why she wanted to make certain that no council members would be on the committee.
“There’s an impression that the neighborhood council would only want its own people on the committee,” said Hench. “What I would hope is that we can influence how they develop down there.”
“They” is developer Edward Czuker, who is planning to develop three sites near Vista del Mar. Two of the development proposals are out of scale with the neighborhood, say residents who have seen the plans.
Lance Williams, who owns Playa del Rey Florist and Greenhouse, says that it is imperative to examine some of the most obvious concerns prior to approving any development.
“Traffic and parking are major issues that should be addressed before this starts,” said Williams, who has been at his location for 13 years.
Hench says that in order for Playa del Rey businesses and residents to have input on how they would like to see Culver Boulevard improved, it is vital that all parties unite.
“The community needs to work together on this, and the community needs to participate,” Hench implored. “What happens on Culver Boulevard will impact what Playa del Rey will be in the future.”
There is another group of Playa del Rey homeowners who are also seeking to have their concerns addressed by the developer and their elected officials. Julie Inouye, a longtime resident, is heading a group that City Councilman Bill Rosendahl says should have as much to do with the transformation of the boulevard as the ad-hoc committee.
Hench feels that having the two groups involved with the redesign of Culver Boulevard is not a good idea.
“I think that it is a disservice to have both groups working there right now,” the neighborhood council president asserted.
“No one should feel threatened,” the councilman, who represents Playa del Rey, countered. “Those who live and work down there know it better than anybody else.
“My philosophy is about building consensus and collaboration,” Rosendahl continued. “I encourage the neighborhood council to keep working on the problems down on Culver Boulevard.”
Williams also talked about what he called the boulevard’s integrity, which he feels is worth preserving.
“This is a popular area because it’s a beach community,” he said. “This is a beach town where you can walk just about everywhere, and I’d hate to see a developer turn this into another Manhattan Beach, where you can’t park anywhere or walk anywhere, or you’re subject to just looking at building after building.”
John McKeel, who owns The Vintage Shoppe across the boulevard from the flower shop, says that he was offered an opportunity to relocate to the planned Czuker development at the site of the current Tanner’s coffee shop building. During the half-dozen years that he and his business partner have owned the wine store, McKeel says that due to the traffic on Culver Boulevard and the lack of parking, traffic to his store has decreased.
“A young lady who now lives in Bakersfield stopped by and told me recently that she lived here for three years and never even saw us here,” McKeel recalled. “I think that’s an indication of the problems that this part of the boulevard has, because people are driving so fast that they don’t get a chance to look over at us.”
McKeel says that a renovation is in order for Culver Boulevard, but some residents are against any improvements.
“I think that a lot of the locals don’t want anything to happen down here,” he said. “They would like it to stay just like it is.”
Hench says that she would like to see the ad-hoc committee collect as many suggestions from the public as possible and then have her council evaluate the best way to incorporate the potential developments with the residents’ and business owners’ desires.
“There needs to be a focused effort from our neighborhood council to specifically address the Czuker project,” she said.
She also recognized that her council is thought by some residents in both Westchester and Playa del Rey to be very developer-friendly.
“I know that our council has had a bumpy history with development and is poorly received by some members of our community,” Hench, a Westchester homeowner, acknowledged.
Williams thinks that having two groups working on the redesign of Culver Boulevard can be beneficial.
“There are people who have been around here a long time and they know what’s important to the community,” he said.
McKeel says that he is mulling over the offer to relocate.
“I’m thinking about it; I might do it, but I’m not sure if this is an inherent problem to the area,” he said. “This is not a population that supports retail shops very well.”
Hench hopes that community members present their ideas to the committee when it holds public outreach meetings next year.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for the neighborhood council to listen to the community and for the community to contribute to the redesign of Culver Boulevard,” she said.
Rosendahl believes that all parties can coexist peacefully if they keep in mind that they should be looking at the larger picture of making Culver Boulevard a more inviting commercial area that retains its neighborhood charm.
“A cross-section of input always helps you make the right decisions,” he said. “It’s not one group’s show. It’s everybody’s show.”