At the northern end of the Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey, facing Ballona Creek, various species of birds, including a snowy egret and a great blue heron, can be seen searching the water for food.
It is a usual sight at this section of the lagoon, which took its name from one of those birds and is known to locals as “Egret Park.”
Neighbors and local environmentalists note that the park is popular with birds and other wildlife, as it is along the flight path of birds that come to look for food and return to their nesting area near Marina del Rey. Although it is a fenced section of private property, the area provides a window to passersby of the happenings of the wildlife there, neighbors say.
“It’s a visual asset of the community as well as an environmental reserve,” said William Ballough, a Del Rey Lagoon neighbor and former president of a lagoon neighborhood association.
Resident Mandy Saner added, “It’s a lovely area that’s filled with wildlife and it’s beautiful.
“I like seeing the birds and having peacefulness. It’s very quiet there.”
She says many of her neighbors appreciate the beauty of the area.
Many residents say that the habitat of the wildlife and visual appeal of Egret Park could be threatened with any potential development at the site.
The owner of the lagoon property near 63rd Avenue and Esplanade Street in Playa del Rey — David Schwartzman of D.S. Ventures — says he plans to construct 13 residential units, ranging from two to four bedrooms and 700 to 2,400 square feet in size, at the site. The proposed development would have a maximum height of 26 feet and would provide subterranean parking.
“It’s nice housing along the ocean,” Schwartzman said of his plan.
Some residents argue that a development on the property would have a significant impact on the local wildlife, disturbing the flight path of birds, and affect one of the few remaining wetlands in the area.
A group of neighbors note that they have gathered more than 500 signatures opposing the project plan.
“It’s an ill-conceived project and it would be ecologically disastrous,” Ballough said. “The development would really impinge on the lagoon and degrade the environmental quality of the lagoon.”
Local environmentalist and Ballona Institute co-founder Marcia Hanscom said a housing development at Egret Park would block the flight path of birds such as the least tern, which has a preserve across Ballona Creek near Marina del Rey.
“It would absolutely decimate the migration path of the endangered least tern,” Hanscom predicted.
Another resident who lives near the lagoon, Cheryl Burnett, said, “There’s so much overdevelopment in the city and now there would be an impact on one of the few remaining wetland areas that we have — where does it end?”
Community members say the property is enjoyed not just by local residents but visitors from throughout the city, and they have called for a full environmental impact report (EIR) on the project.
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey voted at its meeting November 4th to recommend a full EIR for any development of Egret Park and to support the purchase of the property for preservation in the community.
“When you look at the area we have a dearth of parks, so it’s a serious concern when any of the parks are threatened,” Neighborhood Council member Denny Schneider said.
Schwartzman said the property has already received an environmental impact analysis along with several other properties under the Westchester community plan. City staff previously requested that the project size be scaled back from 70,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet and the developer complied, he said. Another EIR request would be redundant, Schwartzman said.
“We designed a project that fits within the setback,” Schwartzman said.
In a letter earlier this year, residents said a court decision caused the city to change the designation of the parcel from open space to residential, a zoning designation that permitted condominium development. A “Q” condition was added, limiting the height of the project to 36 feet, the letter said.
Referring to potential impacts on wildlife, Schwartzman said those were studied in the environmental analysis, and added that the project is within zoning restrictions. The developer said he has talked with representatives of City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and is open to meeting with the council office and community to address the plans.
Rosendahl said he is not aware of any specific project plans presented to the city but he has not supported having development at the site.
“I’ve taken a very strong position on that piece of land and I don’t want to see any development there, period,” the councilman said.
As a natural ecosystem, the property would need to have a full EIR for a proposed development, said Rosendahl, echoing the Neighborhood Council recommendation.
Residents believe the Egret Park property should have been preserved as part of the overall Ballona Wetlands park prior to being purchased but they are now considering ways to acquire the land for preservation.
“We have so little open space in the city and it’s a parcel of land that should’ve been preserved many years ago,” Hanscom said.