Playa del Rey’s controversial Legado project faces a Planning Commission appeal

By Gary Walker

An artist’s rendering of the current four-story Legado plan, as seen from Culver Boulevard and Pacific Avenue

A nearly decade-long battle over a development planned for the vacant triangular lot at the heart of lower Playa del Rey shifts to the San Fernando Valley next Thursday, when a community action group will trek to Van Nuys to appeal the Planning Commission’s approval of the Legado project.

A surprise decision in March by the City Planning Department granted a coastal development permit for 72 apartments (eight of them affordable housing units) and 7,500-square feet of ground-floor restaurant and retail at 138 Culver Blvd., known to locals as Jake’s Lot.

The approved version of the project lowered the building’s height from 56 to 48 feet, cut traffic-generating commercial square footage roughly in half, and reduced subterranean parking from two levels to one — likely in response to concerns about disturbing toxic chemicals below the water table.

Legado has been actively campaigning for community acceptance over the past three months, and now the developer touts signatures from hundreds of residents or local business owners in support of the controversial project moving forward.

Save Playa del Rey, the community group pursuing the June 28 appeal, is also keeping the pressure on. And in their corner they have L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who plans to send a representative to speak at the hearing in support of the residents’ appeal.

Playa del Rey native Julie Ross, one of the organizers behind the appeal, argues that Legado would alter the “character and scale” of her beloved beach hamlet.

Yoga and wellness instructor Sara Kay calls Legado a threat to “the spirit and soul of Playa del Rey,” drawing comparisons to intensified real estate values that have reshaped Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

“This is one of the last remaining respites in Los Angeles where there’s a value placed on the natural beauty of where we live and where there’s a real connection to the community,” said Kay, who’s lived in Playa del Rey for three years.

She also worries that momentum for intensified growth will eventually displace existing local businesses.

Culver Boulevard-based real estate broker Steven Matilla of ERA Real Estate disagrees.

“Having 72 additional families visit our stores, our dry cleaners and our restaurants will be great for the local economy and bolster the local marketplace,” he said. “And from a property rights standpoint, they’ve followed the law and they have the permits, so they have the right to develop their property.”

The LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce backed a prior version of Legado, but chamber President Christina Davis said the organization has not been asked to take a position at this time.

“We do note that the project has apparently been substantially changed and downsized; however, all the community benefits, including business-serving parking, have been stripped from the plan,” Davis said. “It is disappointing to see that absolutely none of the original suite of community benefits remains in the latest proposal.”

Carol Kapp, who has lived in Playa del Rey for over 30 years, remains troubled by the project’s height, opposes the project footprint expanding into Culver Boulevard, and resents the developer’s request to incorporate an alley that has provided public parking for locals for the past 20 years.

“Legado has disregarded the Del Rey Lagoon Plan of 37 feet.  The building as presented is visually and physically out of scale with our community,” she said. “They also want 10 feet of Culver Boulevard, thus removing an eastbound lane on Culver from Pacific [Avenue] to Vista del Mar. We already have experienced a road diet that was a total disservice to our community. I hope that the city does not give away the alley or Culver.”

Kelly Morgan, who sells apartment buildings for a living and moved to Playa del Rey in 2010, said the neighborhood needs more rental housing to share the burden of growing demand throughout Los Angeles.

“People are moving here to Los Angeles and we can’t be NIMBYs about providing more housing,” he said. “I think it’s really kind of selfish not to want to build in beach cities, especially if there’s an affordable housing component.”

Benjamin Reznik, a land-use attorney representing Legado, said the appeal to halt the project should be denied on three grounds: it complies with existing land-use requirements; Los Angeles needs more affordable and market-rate housing; and the project balances commercial and residential use.

“This property has been and still is zoned commercial. [The project] provides some local retail service stores as well as the residential component, and that is a far better project than a big commercial mall, strip mall center or office building,” he said.

Kay and others hope the California Coastal Commission will intercede if necessary.

“What we’re asking for is responsible development. The Coastal Commission has rules in place to protect communities like ours because it’s a very attractive area to build in but there’s also the potential to exploit us,” she said. “This is absolutely about more than just this building. It’s what it potentially sets in motion.”

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission meets at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 28, in the second floor council chambers in Van Nuys City Hall, 14410 Sylvan St., Los Angeles. Check for a meeting agenda.