Opponents worry Gjelina owner’s plans for a new Venice location will increase noise and traffic

By Gary Walker

A new Venice restaurant/bakery proposed by the owner of Abbot Kinney Boulevard’s popular Gjelina restaurant is already getting bad reviews from would-be neighbors and community leaders.

Gjelina owner Fran Camaj is seeking city permits to convert a roughly 5,000-square-foot office building at 320 Sunset Ave. into a combination bakery and restaurant with a liquor license and a 65-seat outdoor patio.

Opponents say the new restaurant, adjacent to a residential area, would create unacceptable noise levels and exacerbate traffic congestion and parking scarcity.

Camaj said he understands there are concerns but feels the project has been unfairly characterized.

“At Gjelina, we don’t have people who are drunk coming out of our restaurant and going into neighborhoods. We don’t have a lot of visits from the Los Angeles Police Dept. about people who are intoxicated,” Camaj said. “The best way to judge how I will run [320 Sunset] is how I have run my other business.”

The Venice Neighborhood Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee felt differently, however. During an Aug. 5 meeting, the committee unanimously recommended that the council side against the 320 Sunset project when it comes before them on Tuesday.

While 320 Sunset project architect Stephen Vitalich says the proposal has its supporters, those who have spoken out in public are fiercely opposed to it

Amanda Borja, who lives next door at 319 Sunset, said the restaurant’s patio would operate day and night right below her bedroom window.

“The noise from a 65-seat patio would be insane. The traffic from the alley coming in and out is a nightmare,” said Borja, adding that she has a 13-month old daughter and that her husband works from home.

Roxanne Brown, who lives a block away on Vernon Avenue, noted that 320 Sunset is bracketed by Fourth Street and Hampton Drive, streets that can already be very congested.

“This restaurant location is a recipe for disaster,” Brown said.

This would be Camaj’s third business in Venice. He is also planning to open a fusion restaurant at 1305 Abbot Kinney, a block west of Gjelina, at the former High D High boutique.

In its Aug. 5 recommendation, the Land Use and Planning Committee left the door open for supporting a different kind of project — a bakery concept with no alcohol or outdoor seating.

“My recommendation is [for the committee] to recommend to the board that we deny the project as constituted and let the applicant know that the community would welcome a bakery but the noise and parking has to be dealt with,” said committee member Mark Kleiman, who was in charge of the staff report on 320 Sunset.

During his presentation, Kleiman implied that Camaj had initially deceived the community about his plans, citing an initial 2013 permit application for a bakery with no increase in land-use intensity.

“Even though he said there would be no increase in occupancy, six months before [that] the applicant had signed a lease saying it will be a bakery and a café. So they had already planned an increase in occupancy to have more people there, they had already planned to serve food there and have people eat that food on the premises,” Kleiman said. “This was concealed and a cause of great concern in terms of any assurance that conditions attached by the community or the neighborhood council would be adhered to.”

Kleiman also referred to an April 2011 West Los Angeles Zoning Administration hearing report in which Camaj was accused of violating several land use conditions imposed on Gjelina, including music and noise being heard outside the restaurant, lack of training for employees serving alcohol and using office/retail space for dining. Kleiman said that report factored into his opposition to 320 Sunset.

Camaj said Kleiman’s characterization of the 320 Sunset project’s history was unfair. He said that provisions of the city permit process allowed, and essentially encouraged, him to first apply for the bakery concept and later attach patio seating for a restaurant.

“If I had applied for both at the same time, it would have delayed the process of getting permits,” he said. “I’m sorry if people think that I tried to hide something or be deceptive. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Camaj also noted that there have been several opportunities for residents to learn about his plans, including prior discussion at neighborhood council and committee meetings as well as a recent hearing held by the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission, which is also reviewing the 320 Sunset project.