By Gary Walker
Citing disappointment with a traffic study and a string of missed opportunities to demonstrate how the developer was willing to work with Playa del Rey residents, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa’s Planning and Land Use Committee tabled a vote on a proposed project by the Legado Co. July 16.
Legado, a development and real estate firm owned by the family of Edward Czuker, was seeking approval to construct a 72-apartment mixed-use project with 16,000 square feet of retail space that the company calls Legado Del Mar at 138 Culver Blvd., a triangular shaped parcel known to locals as “Jake’s Lot.”
There are plans to have a two-story subterranean parking structure at the mixed-use development.
Legado owns several parcels in downtown Playa del Rey, including two potential development sites within close proximity to 138 Culver Blvd.
Committee member David Voss announced he would not be voting in favor of the project after two of his committee colleagues had spoken, due largely in part to a traffic study that he soundly criticized. The plan calls for adding an additional left-turn signal to Nicholson Street that would allow more traffic to move onto Pershing Avenue.
“This two-lane (proposal) cannot be justified by the project,” he stated, waving the study.
Voss, a former West Los Angeles Area Planning commissioner, said the traffic study assumes unproven facts such as the final stages of the commercial and retail component of the planned community of Playa Vista, scheduled to be completed by 2015.
“I categorically reject the building of two lanes on Nicholson and categorically reject the presumptions that it assumes,” Voss asserted.
Nicholson has been the site of many accidents, some fatal, in Playa del Rey. Most recently, Venice resident Brigitte Burdine, a video game casting director, was killed by a hit and run motorist near Nicholson Dec. 29, 2010 while walking eastbound on Culver.
The Legado project does have supporters, who think it has the potential to enhance a community in need of a facelift.
“I’m pleased to hear there has been a move to develop the site,” said Fredi Siegel, a Playa del Rey resident. “I see this as a move to make Playa del Rey a more vibrant community.”
LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Christina Davis said her organization welcomed the proposed development and revitalization of Jake’s Lot.
“The chamber is also urging all developers of new projects to incorporate a local hiring program, to the extent possible,” she said.
But there has also been a great deal of anxiety surrounding the projects and in some cases, outright opposition.
Michael Gemme, who lives on Montreal Street near the project site, told the committee that he was awakened by construction noise that occurred before 7 a.m., the earliest time that construction can begin. Gemme said he and his neighbors were not notified that Legado was beginning preliminary work at the project site.
“These people do not care about our community,” Gemme asserted.
He also took issue with the planned subterranean garage. “Two stories underground, with this water table? That’s ridiculous,” he said.
Residents of “the Jungle,” a collection of apartment buildings and homes next to the Jake’s Lot parcel, say one complex that has underground parking frequently has trouble with flooding during rains and high tides.
Committee member Cheryl Burnett, who lives in Playa del Rey, said not taking a vote on the project was a no-brainer after hearing from Czuker’s representatives. “We had no choice except to table the motion,” she said.
Burnett was also dismayed that no additional parking had been included in Legado’s presentation.
“The more that we meet with Legado the worse the project gets,” she told the developer’s representatives. “The fact that there is no mitigation for parking is beyond me.”
Parking and traffic are the two biggest problems the community faces, several residents have said in prior meetings with Derek Jones, who was in charge of the Playa del Rey projects for Legado last year.
Calls to Legado representatives for comment on the traffic study, the committee’s remarks on their presentation and its decision not to vote on their project were referred to Benjamin Reznik, an attorney with the Century City law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Mitchell LLP.
Reznik, who is the spokesman for the Playa del Rey project, said the developer is in the early stages of the project and his client will be ready to answer all the committee’s questions the next time that Legado makes a presentation.
“We will have responses to everything that was raised at the meeting,” Reznik told The Argonaut.
The developer’s representatives did not mention an environmental analysis at the meeting. Former Legado chief operating officer Jones, who represented the developer until last year, indicated at prior meetings that he did not think a complete environmental impact report was necessary for the project site.
“Given the proximity of the parcels to each other, we would like to see a full environmental review,” Burnett said. “We need to understand all of the impacts that these developments can have on our small community.”
Former Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl called on city Planning Director Michael LoGrande last year to consider a full environmental review.
“What Legado believes, based on the studies that have been done with respect to (138 Culver Blvd.) any and all identifiable impacts can and will be mitigated,” Reznik said. “Therefore, a full EIR is not legally required.”
Patricia Lyon, who chairs the planning and land use committee, said the earliest that Legado could be placed on the committee’s agenda again is in September.
Reznik said his client will be ready to address any public concerns. “I’m very confident that we will have a very attractive project that will be acceptable (to the committee),” the attorney stated.
Burnett said she expects the developer’s subsequent presentation to be drastically different than the one that was shown at the July 16 meeting.
“I would hope to see some sign that they have listened to the community and that they have come up with a solution for parking and traffic in Playa del Rey,” she said.