Planners from the City of Los Angeles Department of Planning presented a proposed Culver Boulevard Mixed-Use Incentive District project to the Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council, and were asked to hold a public workshop to gather input from residents and businesses in Playa del Rey.
On a condo rooftop just before sunset, with views of the water and surrounding homes in Playa del Rey, Los Angeles City Department of Planning representatives Debbie Lawrence and Christopher Koontz told local residents they will have to appeal to the Los Angeles City Council to officially establish a mixed-use incentive district for the local Culver Boulevard business district.
Lawrence and Koontz met with more than 60 residents to discuss the Culver Boulevard Mixed-Use Incentive District for Playa del Rey, to identify what types of development and critical improvements residents want.
Koontz said that no design review is necessary for a commercially zoned parcel, allowing a developer to come in and buy one lot or the whole block, so the Mixed-Use Incentive District plan needs to get under way to help establish what type of design will be allowed before a new developer comes in, said Koontz.
Koontz told local residents at the meeting Wednesday, August 22nd, that a developer could come in and build property that is currently commercially zoned, which currently allows a height of 45 feet. Thirty-six feet is the recommended height under the 2004 Westchester-Playa del Rey Community Plan.
The proposed Culver Boulevard Mixed-Use Incentive District would begin at Nicholson Street and end at Pacific Avenue, with small businesses, several restaurants, and apartment buildings along Culver Boulevard.
Asked by audience members how they could get height limitations, more crosswalks and traffic lights quickly, Koontz said they would need to contact their Los Angeles City Councilman, Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District.
Grieg Asher, Rosendahl’s planning deputy told the audience that Rosendahl had asked the Los Angeles Department of City Planning to revive this community design overlay that is part of the 2004 Westchester-Playa del Rey Community Plan Update.
A developer has reportedly been buying up individual parcels in Playa del Rey recently, and this was an opportunity for residents to have a say in how the area would be developed, said Asher.
Koontz said he is not aware of the identity of any developers that have purchased property in Playa del Rey.
A handout of FAQs (frequently asked questions) about mixed-use developments was distributed, as well as an information questionnaire listing the various choices.
The questionnaire asked which revitalization developments and improvements the residents wanted most and what the additional factors or concerns of the residents were. It also requested the identification of the most critical improvements necessary.
Koontz said that no individual developer could develop a parcel now on Culver Boulevard because parking requirements would overwhelm the area, and that is why a mixed-use district consisting of stores, offices and apartments would be more practical.
The average life of structures built is around 50 years, said Koontz, and a high vacancy rate equals a low investment return, making it necessary to offer incentives to developers such as density bonuses, allowing a height variation, or less open space for an apartment complex.
Koontz said that a developer might want underground parking, to which environmentalist and local resident Roy van de Hoek commented that with the wetlands and a high water table, standing water would be a significant problem during rainfall, pooling in a lower-level parking lot.
Some residents said they didnot want a density change and more parking, and suggested a single lane in either direction for Culver Boulevard, perhaps with a landscaped median.
The most egregious problem in the area is traffic from southern beach communities coming up Vista del Mar onto Culver Boulevard through Playa del Rey on a daily basis at peak morning and evening hours, said residents.
The traffic is dangerous and people speed through as though it were a freeway, giving little thought to anyone’s safety as they try to get to the State Route 90 access to the 405 Freeway or to go north on Lincoln Boulevard to Santa Monica and beyond, said a number of residents.
Asked why the city couldn’t prepare an EIR (environmental impact report), Koontz said, “You can’t do a study on nothing,” saying that a proposed plan needs to be in place before an EIR can be done.
Asher said every community is impacted in some way, but if residents decide what they want to focus on — either a big business district or a small one — they could opt for larger sidewalks, more pedestrian crosswalks with signals, parking on the street and other additions that would make Playa del Rey less convenient for cut-through traffic.
Koontz said that a developer would need to acquire more than one parcel and probably at least four to build anything of significance, to which one speaker added that mixed-use doesn’t call for four parcels, which would increase density with less available parking.
Widening sidewalks, making the district more pedestrian-friendly and a landscaped center median that would reduce gutter rain would greatly add to the small, neighborly community that is Playa del Rey, said van de Hoek.
The suggestion of avoiding an EIR and taking a “backdoor approach” was broached as a way to lessen city requirements.
A traffic study would be time-consuming, perhaps taking up to 18 months, with public workshops and meetings, and a developer could still proceed with his project during the study, said Koontz.
Asked if a mixed-use incentive district could have a 50/50 mix of residential and business, Koontz said the current mix is 60 percent business (and could be up to 80 percent in the future when there are apartment buildings), but the standard applies to the parcel, and can’t be directed to allocate a specific 50 percent mix.
The local florists, the juice shop, the Chinese restaurant and other restaurants and businesses all have a “mom-and-pop” component in this sleepy beach community that we don’t want to lose, said some residents.
“We don’t want another Archstone apartment development or something like a Wal-Mart,” said one resident.
Concern was expressed over the fact that revitalization would force the mom-and-pop-type stores out because leasing costs would be higher in new development.
There are currently eight apartment complexes on the south side of Culver Boulevard, and the suggestion was made to reduce the apartment complexes in the future and put in more small businesses.
Koontz said that improvements must be paid for, and if there are no new buildings there is no money, affecting the “village and charming atmosphere.”
In answer to a resident’s question about removing telephone poles, Koontz said that telephone poles could be removed and such services be placed underground, possibly paid for by the developer as a mitigation.
Koontz said the planning department welcomes all input, positive and negative, and what is particularly important during the early stages of planning are community goals and what residents and business owners would like to see along Culver Boulevard.
Public workshops and meetings will be part of the continuous process in the later stages, and individuals can now write or e-mail the planning department with their ideas.
Information, Christopher Koontz, Department of City Planning, 200 N. Spring St. #621, Los Angeles 90012 or chris.koontz@ lacity.org