Coastal Commission rejects appeal to halt construction on Via Marina

By Gary Walker

An artist’s rendering of the wetlands park planned for Via Marina Image courtesy of the Hardage Group

An artist’s rendering of the wetlands park planned for Via Marina
Image courtesy of the Hardage Group

The California Coastal Commission has rejected an environmental group’s last-ditch appeal to prevent the construction of two new waterfront hotels on undeveloped land in a largely residential section of Marina del Rey.

San Diego-based developers the Hardage Group plans to build a five-story Marriott Courtyard Hotel and a six-story Residence Inn on Via Marina between Marquesas and Tahiti ways.

The hotel complex would include a new public anchorage and water taxi stop, a new outdoor pedestrian promenade and an adjacent 1.46-acre saltwater wetlands park.

Local environmental activist group the Ballona Institute is among the most vocal critics of the hotel complex.

Challenging the environmental review of the hotel plan, the Ballona Institute filed the Coastal Commission appeal after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors rejected the group’s earlier appeal of county approvals.

Commissioners rejected the group’s appeal on an 8-1 vote, with three members absent, during a May 13 hearing in San Diego.

“The commission found that the action taken by the county was consistent with the Local Coastal Plan, [which guides development in the marina],” commission analyst Zack Rehm said.

Aaron Clark, a land-use consultant who represents the Hardage Group, said the hotel is still at least 18 months away from construction, as various permits must still be obtained. However, the right to build the project can no longer be appealed.

The commission also granted county planning officials a new permit for construction of the wetland park, replacing a permit that had expired during the hotel approvals process. Grading and other site preparation work could begin as early as this summer, Clark said.

Marina del Rey resident Karen Baldassarre had written a letter to the commission in support of the appeal, arguing (as many others had before) that the marina does not need additional hotel capacity.

There are currently six hotels operating in Marina del Rey, offering about 1,100 rooms.

Baldassarre, who lives on Via Dolce, also questioned the wetland park.

“There is nothing in the [California] Coastal Act that allows for the alteration of a wetland into a different type of wetland. The hotel is simply going to make it into a landscape patio,” she wrote.

County biologists have said they want to convert the future parkland into saltwater marshland because the new habitat would remain wet year-round and provide a type of habitat that’s rare along the California coast.

Roy Van de Hoek, the Ballona Institute’s head biologist, disagrees.

“We and our supporters were very disappointed in the commission’s ruling,” said Van de Hoek, who did not rule out the possibility of a future lawsuit.

The Coastal Commission decision vindicates the plan says Clark, who is with the firm Armbruster, Goldsmith and Delvac.

“This project has been consistent with the Coastal Act, and to see the commission recognize that was very satisfying,” he said.