Critics say big changes planned for the 23-acre parcel would destroy lush trees that house nesting blue herons; developer says all the facts aren’t in

By Joe Piasecki

Congressional candidate Marianne Williamson, left, addresses Mariners Village renovation opponents outside Burton Chace Park

Congressional candidate Marianne Williamson, left, addresses Mariners Village renovation opponents outside Burton Chace Park

Environmental activists and residents of Mariners Village — a 981-unit housing complex spanning 23 sylvan acres near the northern mouth of Marina del Rey harbor — are on the offensive against plans to redevelop the parcel that would destroy hundreds of mature trees.

The canopies of those trees, opponents say, are some of the last remaining local nesting grounds for blue herons, cormorants and other sea birds that have been displaced by widespread tree removal at other parcels in the marina over the past 15 years.

The proposal by Marina Admiralty Co., the original late 1960s builders and current leaseholders of Mariners Village, would not increase the number of units on the property but would significantly alter its footprint and architectural style.

Over a period of about 10 years, new construction would redirect roadways to carve out four separate neighborhoods, with building groups receiving exterior facelifts in various architectural styles described as modern, contemporary, Cape Cod and Mediterranean.

The new footprint would revolve around a renovated town center, where 7,000 square feet of visitor-serving retail would be added to an existing 2,000 square feet of resident-serving shops.

Nearly as controversial as the removal of trees is the widening of a currently private 18-foot wide waterfront promenade by about 10 feet. The promenade would be opened for public recreation and access to 92 newly created boat slips, including a public dock and water taxi area, according to project documents. There are currently no boat slips along the rocky shoreline of Mariners Village.

More than 100 people attended a raucous meeting of the Los Angeles County Design Control Board last Wednesday at Burton Chace Park, where audience members shouted jeers during a presentation of the project by Marina Admiralty Co. representative Michael Sondermann.

Architectural renderings of development plans show a Mariners Village that “looks like a prison,” shouted one attendee. “Where are the trees?” shouted another.

While renderings showed a highly reduced tree canopy, Sondermann said a landscape plan for the $200-million renovation proposal has yet to be finalized and submitted to the county.

The company expects to submit preliminary environmental review documents to the county next week in order to initiate a public approvals process lasting 18 months or more, Sondermann said.

“The tree plan we showed at the meeting was very preliminary. There’s certainly a lot of room to talk about what types of trees, what sizes,” Sondermann said during a subsequent interview.

But the admitted removal of most of Mariners Village’s existing trees was enough to prompt two-dozen people, including congressional candidate Marianne Williamson, to hold a demonstration outside the meeting and others to call for blue heron protections.

“How can this plan protect these birds when it means taking out nearly every single tree?” asked Marcia Hanscom, executive director of the Ballona Institute and chair of the Sierra Club’s Ballona Restoration Committee.

Others say the restructuring of Mariners Village is also a quality of life issue for its human inhabitants.

Mariners Village resident Chris Cate said the displacement of nesting sea birds prompted him to speak out about the plans, but he also objects to the potential urbanization of what may be the last green patch of Marina del Rey.

The view from the current rocky waterfront of Mariner’s Village is the Ballona Wetlands ecological reserve, creating a quiet, meditative space that’s a refuge from surrounding visual noise. If that waterfront is developed for boat slips, “the virgin view we have from the promenade looking across the channel will never be the same,” Cate said.

“Privacy and natural landscape are truly rare in this city,” resident Anna Hoff told the Design Control Board. The rustic waterfront, she said, brings her “incredible peace of mind.”

Sondermann said that many of the proposed changes are in response to county lease renewal requirements, which Marina Admiralty Co. must meet before its lease expires in nine years.

Under the area’s local coastal plan, officials will not extend the lease for Mariners Village unless the waterfront promenade is made public and widened to at least 28 feet, Sondermann said.

The company hopes to construct a $5-million seawall to create the 10-foot waterfront extension, Sondermann said.

When environmental review is complete, the project must be approved by the California Coastal Commission and the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission. It will also return to the county Design Control Board.