PLAYA VISTA PHASE I — Members of the Planning Commission visited Phase I of Playa Vista’s residential and retail complex. Representatives of the developer believe that helped persuade them to approve the Village, the second stage of the planned community. (Argonaut photo by Gary Walker)

The Village, the 111-acre mixed use complex that Playa Capital executives say will be the “heart of Playa Vista,” had its environmental review unanimously approved by the Los Angeles Planning Commission on December 10th.

Playa Vista officials were heartened by the commission’s decision, which is one more step in a series of committees that must approve the project before it is heard by the Los Angeles City Council.

“It was an excellent day for Playa Vista,” Steven Sugerman, a spokesman for the developer, told The Argonaut. “The Planning Commission really validated the strength of the concept of Playa Vista, which is about open space, quality of life and having amenities where you live and work.”

The proposed project will consist of 2,600 residential units, 175,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of what the developer calls “community serving retail.”

The Village is the second stage of Playa Vista’s vision of a self-contained community with shopping, office space and residential housing combined into one neighborhood. Its representatives say that the commercial component will also attract residents from nearby Westchester, Del Rey and Playa del Rey, many of whom already use its retail shops, hiking trails and parks.

Nora MacLellan is one local resident who visits Playa Vista regularly and uses the trails and parks. She mentioned proposed development projects at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester and the Entrada Tower on the Culver City-Westchester border and their proposed level of density with little or no green space for residents and potential tenants compared to Playa Vista.

“We look at what’s going on at those two projects and think that Playa Vista should be set up as an example of what good development is,” said MacLellan, who spoke to The Argonaut as a Playa del Rey resident but attended the meeting as a representative of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester- Playa. “Phase II will allow that community to truly be a work, live and play environment.”

The planned residential development has over 6,000 residents in Phase I, which was built in 2003, according to Playa Vista representatives.

The two stages of Playa Vista have been laden with controversy and subjected to a variety of lawsuits. The Village was previously approved in 2007, but a public interest group sued the developer to halt the mixed-use center. An appellate court found deficiencies in the environmental impact report and sent the document back to the council, in effect stopping the building of the project.

“The (environmental impact report on the project) was deficient in its analysis of land use impacts, mitigation of impacts on historical archaeological resources, and wastewater impacts,” the court declared in its ruling.

All city approvals for the project were revoked, as well as the permits that were obtained for construction.

Land use impacts and most recently the effects of global warming, have been added to the list of items that Playa Vista must address before its EIR is approved.

Opponents of the second stage of Playa Vista’s development say that the commission’s vote was discouraging.

“We were disappointed with what we see as the lack of process that is conducive to public participation,” said Kathy Knight, the conservation chair of the Sierra Club’s Airport Marina Group. “It seemed like a done deal when we went into the hearing.”

Marcia Hanscom, the co-director of the Ballona Institute in Playa del Rey, is worried that city officials were not addressing the areas that the appellate court identified.

“I’m really concerned about some of the things that the city is not paying attention to, which they should be doing,” said Hanscom, who was unable to attend the hearing. “The city is not requiring more mitigation for things like global warming.”

Sugerman pointed out that the commission was complimentary of the development because it felt that it was a compelling project. The commissioners have visited the planned community’s Phase I, and Sugerman believes that gave them a sense of what Playa Vista envisions for the second phase.

“They were extremely supportive of our community plan,” he said. “They were able to see firsthand what we have been talking about for years, which includes having open space and a commitment to the environment.”

Several speakers were present to speak in favor of the Village, including residents of Phase I and those from the surrounding neighborhoods like MacLellan.

“Playa Vista is doing and has done what it set out to do,” she said. “They have done everything that they said they would do.”

Knight, a Santa Monica resident who has been a plaintiff in past lawsuits filed against Playa Vista’s Phase I, said that the land should be used as a water treatment for wetlands.

“A good portion of the urban runoff goes into the freshwater marsh west of Lincoln Boulevard,” she said. “An additional 2,600 units of residential housing and commercial space is not a good use of this land, especially when it sits right next to the wetlands and the riparian corridor.”

The Grassroots Coalition, another organization that is suing Playa Vista, also submitted comments at the hearing, alleging that city officials had been derelict in assessing wastewater and the recharging of aquifers in both phases of the development among other things.

Sugerman said the second stage of the project would produce 7,000 construction jobs and 1,000 full-time jobs at the mixed-use complex.

“In addition, it will provide sales and business revenues and taxes, which accrues tremendous benefit for the city,” he added.

MacLellan said that while she supports the project, she feels that the work of numerous conservation and environmental organizations to downsize Playa Vista from its original plans should be commended.

“The environmentalists should be proud of the work that they have done to scale back the original proposal, which was much larger than it is now,” she noted.

With the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval, Sugerman said the concept of the Village is now getting closer to fruition.

“Playa Vista is not theoretical anymore,” he said.

The council will review the EIR next year after the document goes before its land use and planning committee.