The coastal community of Playa del Rey has gone without significant development or any major type of aesthetic upgrade in decades.
That will soon change with three potential commercial and residential projects in the works, and a team of residents are busy trying to craft a set of guidelines that they hope will be included in the community’s future overhaul.
An ad hoc community design overlay (CDO) group met late last month to flesh out a developing community driven blueprint that will involve the ideas and suggestions of lower Playa del Rey businesses and homeowners on the town’s future regarding streetscapes, amenities and planning as it relates to development.
An acre of land where Culver Boulevard, the community’s main thoroughfare, meets Vista del Mar at the far end of Playa del Rey is being considered for development by the Legado Companies, a real estate development firm.
The development group plans to build a mixed use-project with approximately 15,000 square feet of retail and over 70 ocean view residences at the site known to locals as “Jake’s Lot,” according to the company’s website.
Legado is also planning another project across the street, with a restaurant and commercial use at the site of the popular Tanner’s coffee shop.
Craig Eggers, a member of the design overlay group, believes that residents and merchants who live and work near the boulevard must soon realize that their quaint, sleepy beach community could very well see some changes to the aesthetic look and feel of the neighborhood in the near future.
“Legado is a major stakeholder in Playa del Rey,” said Eggers, who lives in what is called “upper” Playa del Rey, above Pershing Avenue. “I wouldn’t be so sure if I would want anyone to tell me what to do with my property if I were a developer.”
Legado owns the land and is asserting a by-right project, but the members of the design overlay group are hoping that their ideas and proposals will be considered for any project on Culver.
“I think there has to be some guidelines in place regarding development,” Eggers said.
Cheryl Burnett, another committee member, thanks Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl for his office’s role in backing the committee’s mission.
“I appreciate him providing this creative solution to facilitate this opportunity,” said Burnett, who like Eggers is a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa.
At the committee’s most recent meeting late last month, Burnett discerned a desire among those who attended to preserve the town’s unique building and design characteristics. She also noticed that a certain group does not want to see many changes made to the boulevard and its surrounding streetscape.
“Some may be resistant to any changes, but there needs to be some level of design standards,” said Burnett, who lives a few blocks from the pending development projects. “What we want to include is (a provision) that there will be no impact on property owners and businesses unless they are undergoing major construction.”
Having a more pedestrian-oriented community was one of the common themes that was expressed at the meeting, Burnett added.
Several Playa del Rey residents have expressed dissatisfaction with the neighborhood council, which impaneled a similar committee two years ago. They cite a long history of neglect by the local council, which many feel has consistently ignored their needs and has catered largely to Westchester business interests and developers.
In an effort to have additional community input, Rosendahl created another “citizen committee,” which some feel is adding an unnecessary distraction to the process by advocating that the community fight the developments – even though the developer has the right to build.
“They’re not helping at all,” said one committee member who is familiar with the group.
Eggers said Derek Jones, Legado’s chief operating officer who handles the company’s day-to-day activities, has said that he will consider the overlay committee’s recommendations as the company begins to finalize its development plans.
“He agreed to comply with the (group’s) suggestions if they are in place by the time the development begins,” Eggers said.
Jones did not returns calls to The Argonaut for comment.
The committee is planning to have a final set of recommendations by spring and members are hoping that the city’s planners consider making them a part of the planning conditions for Legado’s projects.
“My belief is if we have standards in place and take community input, why would we not want (the community design overlay) to be included?” Burnett said.
Two years ago this month, an earlier version of a community design overlay committee met to discuss similar points of interest in Playa del Rey, but the committee soon disbanded. Kent Strumpell, a Westchester resident who attended one of the few community meetings that were held by the first committee, offered advice then that some find pertinent in the current situation.
“What I’ve learned is that the city really responds to community input,” said Strumpell, who is a member of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. “If you have a vision for what you want to do, that really gives the policy makers and the elected officials something that they can push for.
“But you’ve got to work together to come up with that common vision,” he added. “That way, I really think that you’ll see results.”
Eggers said the developer should be more visible at some of the community meetings.
“If Legado is truly going to be an active member of the (Playa del Rey) business community they should be more actively engaged in the (community design overlay) project,” he asserted.
“If I had a great deal of money invested there, I’d certainly want to be involved.”
Burnett was pleased with last month’s turnout.
“There’s been a real community spirit and a good balance between businesses and residents,” she said. “This is an important conversation that we’re having.”
But she also cautioned those who have not taken part in the meetings, as well as some who want to preserve the beach community’s past but are reluctant to see what its future might bring.
“We need to be very cautious on how we move forward because we are setting the design standards for the next 30 years,” Burnett noted. “This is a rare opportunity that we have to help shape what the future of Culver Boulevard will be.”