The Marina del Rey Design Control Board recommended conceptual design approval for a proposed apartment renovation project and approval for a new trash enclosure at the fuel dock at its Wednesday, Aug. 18 meeting.

The Villa Venetia Apartments, at the end of Fiji Way between Ballona Creek and the main channel, received conceptual design approval for a renovation of the approximately 6.4-acre site consisting of four three-story (28 foot tall) buildings containing 224 residential apartments and ancillary uses. The cost of the proposed project is $25.7 million, said a representative of the developer.

The leasehold does not include a water area nor any marina facilities, as it is located along the east side of the main channel and approximately 500 feet of waterfront pedestrian promenade runs along the west perimeter of the site and along the northerly parcel boundary off Fiji Way, according to county documentation.

The development is the first site visible when boats come into the main channel, although it is seemingly hidden from view along Fiji Way.

“It’s been a long decade trying to protect the birds and the rookery at this site, and I want to thank the property owners and particularly Santos Kreimann (director of Beaches and Harbors) for the leadership that has changed this whole project from a massive, very high structure that would have really destroyed the habitat that is part of this geography to a reduce, reuse sort of project that is more sustainable and that really works with the geography and with the nature that is not only onsite but immediately adjacent,” said Marcia Hanscom, co-director of the Ballona Institute.

“I’m really stunned to be here saying how much I like this project now.”

“In November we met with the applicant at Mr. Kreimann’s invitation and we were concerned about some of the trees they were going to get rid of, and now they took our concerns under consideration and they’re keeping all of the trees that have any nesting history at all.

“They even took some of our concerns about having a dog-walking path underneath the trees, she said.”

Hanscom said the institute would still like to work with the applicant on items such as construction timing, making sure that some of the work isn’t being done right next to the nesting trees, and parking underneath the trees.

The idea of a structure to protect the cars from bird guano was discussed but she said that their biologist said a structure could make it easier for predators to jump up on and gain access to birds and nests. Hanscom said the project has made an “amazing turn-around” and she credits the Design Control Board as well for listening to and working with the public.

Kreimann told the audience that the project change from a new project to renovation had been discussed, and that the county wanted certain requirements met by the developer, such as leaving birds on-site; meeting with environmentally concerned individuals; talking to tenants and assisting them with moving to other buildings during the phasing part of the construction; and greatly improving the promenade.

Concerns about a lack of sensitivity had been received, he said, and they would continue to be addressed during the construction phase.

Resident Nancy Vernon Marino said she was very happy that the project was a renovation and is impressed with the aesthetics. Her concerns had related to water usage when a washer/dryer would be installed in each unit and environmental safety.

Members of the public had commented about the building being hidden from street view, but that the complex was the first view that people had from the water as they enter the harbor.

Kreimann said the department understood that this building is the first one viewed from the water, noting that it has to make sense architecturally and has to make an impact.

The phasing of tenants to another part of the complex during construction and allowing them to remain in their units as long as possible was another consideration. An improved promenade for the public to enjoy was also an important component, said Kreimann.

In other business, the election of board officers took place, with members voting to have Peter Phinney remain as chairman. Phinney suggested that member Helena Jubany be nominated as vice chair since current vice chair Simon Pastucha, who was not at the meeting, has been unable to attend meetings over the past few months. Jubany was approved as vice chair.

The Design Control Board also voted to recommend approval on a new stand-alone trash enclosure for the fuel dock on Parcel 1 at the end of Bora Bora Way, with the condition that there was adequate landscaping around it and the enclosure would have a cover.

Two speakers said they had concerns about the noise emanating from the trash trucks that would disrupt egrets sleeping in nearby trees, and that trash wouldn’t be picked up from the ground and attract rodents.

Lessee Greg Schem said the birds were in trees located 300 feet away near buildings, and that his staff is motivated to keep their facility clean on a daily basis, including installing a cover on the enclosure and having a lock on it.

In addition, an update of various projects was given by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. Some of the projects listed include the Oxford Basin; the Admiralty Way realignment; Admiralty Way/Via Marina intersection improvement; Water Line Project; various sewer projects; Sewer Manhole Lining Project; Admiralty Way Severe Odor Control; and the Bike Path Project. Officials said there are plans to have a public meeting in October to provide details and obtain public input.

Vernon Marino claimed that if all of the projects were completed at excessive cost, then more expensive developments would be required to pay for them.

Kreimann said the various county departments work together and communicate, and they also talk to elected officials and brief their deputies, relying on them to inform their constituents.

Kreimann said he knows the public’s perception of the Department of Beaches and Harbors needs changing, and one of the first items is transparency with the public.

He told the audience that in the years spent working for the county he had always had a narrow focus on the financial aspect, but that his wife had a different perspective and she had introduced a component about environmental importance by attending a California Coastal Commission hearing with him.

She convinced him that the snowy plover at Dockweiler Beach was in need of protection and there is now a snowy plover pen at the location, he said.

“As a lesson learned, my wife had me read ‘The Lorax’ by Dr. Seuss, dealing with environmental issues, to our daughter. I was inspired by the book and bought copies for the executives in my department for us to read as a group project,” said Kreimann.

He added that the department is learning and changing direction, but that it has to be within the context of Phase II in the Local Coastal Program certified in 1996 in order to complete implementation of that vision.

The next phase will then consider Marina del Rey as a whole, and that boating aspects need to be balanced and meet the new requirements that include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, among others, he said.