When Darlene Coulson moved into her garden-style apartment complex on Venice Boulevard in Venice, it was the attractive setting of lawns and trees that first caught her attention.
More than 35 years later, it’s that very same atmosphere at the complex known as Venice Manor that offers a sense of sereneness for Coulson.
“Looking out at the lawns and trees brings me peace,” said Coulson, a retired mail carrier.
Coulson and her fellow tenants at Venice Manor — built in 1949 and located at 542-68 Venice Blvd., west of Abbot Kinney Boulevard — compare their complex atmosphere to that of another post-World War II garden-style complex in Venice, Lincoln Place.
“This is, if not the last, one of the last examples of the Garden City Movement in Venice,” said Maraya Cornell, president of the Venice Manor Tenants Association.
But aside from its garden-style architecture and history as a housing site for returning veterans, the 28-unit Venice Manor stands out because of its offering of affordable housing in the community, tenants say. Some tenants fear that the affordable housing component could be threatened with a new plan to construct luxury homes at the site.
Robert D’Elia, managing partner of the Santa Monica-based development firm RAD Ventures, LLC, said the firm is currently under contract to purchase the Venice Manor property. At a Venice Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee meeting in February, RAD Ventures presented preliminary plans to demolish the complex and build a total of 18 single-family units on nine separate lots.
The single-family homes would be about 2,000 square feet in size and rise three stories, with at least two parking spaces provided for each unit, D’Elia said. The proposed development would be comprised of over 50 percent open space, he said.
“We think there’s a real need for something like this in Venice,” D’Elia said. “We want to bring a quality project that is family friendly and takes advantage of open space and view corridors.”
Representatives of RAD Ventures say that the Venice Manor site, which is near the Venice Library and in close proximity to Abbot Kinney Boulevard, is located on an “important gateway to the beach.”
“This is a place that is so visible,” RAD spokeswoman Melissa Sweeney said of the Venice Boulevard location. “The proximity of this site to jobs is really key.”
But tenants of the complex claim that the developer has not indicated any plans to replace the affordable housing units within the community, which has caused concern that a low-income housing source would be lost and they would be displaced from their homes of many years. Some residents say that many longtime tenants could not afford to pay higher rents if they were forced to move from Venice Manor.
“All of my memories are here,” Coulson said. “I didn’t ever plan on having to move from my home. My whole life is here.”
Others say that the proposed project is out of scale with the neighborhood, would impact traffic in the area and would challenge elements of the Venice Specific Plan. RAD Ventures, which has proposed a maximum project height of 35 feet, would need to seek Specific Plan variances for height and setback on the front yards, D’Elia said.
“This proposal is bad for Venice. It reduces affordable housing and it’s not within the character and scale of the neighborhood,” said Cornell, who has lived at the complex for three years.
“Our main concern is that these affordable units are going to be taken away from the community and there’s no plan to replace them,” said tenant Anna-Barbara Tietz, who has lived at Venice Manor for seven years.
Coulson added, “This is a piece of history and it shouldn’t be leveled to bring in million-dollar homes.”
Tenants have also expressed concern that the proposal challenges the Mello Act, which requires that when any low-or-moderate-income residential unit is demolished within the coastal zone, the unit be replaced with another low-or-moderate-income unit.
According to the Los Angeles Housing Department, ten of the Venice Manor units have qualified for affordable designation, but tenants dispute that classification, saying that more than 20 units can qualify as affordable. Some tenants claim that RAD has proposed to replace the affordable units as far away as San Pedro, but D’Elia rejected that suggestion.
D’Elia, who says he’s an advocate of affordable housing, adds that he would adhere to the determined number of replacement units, and hopes to replace them as close to the site as he can.
“My objective is to put them as close to this (site) as possible,” he said.
Land Use and Planning Committee chair Challis Macpherson said the committee has only heard a preliminary plan for the project but has encouraged the developer to replace any existing affordable units locally.
“We have to be very hard line of the replacement of affordable housing,” Macpherson said.
Tenants claim D’Elia has avoided meeting with the Tenants Association to discuss concerns, but the developer countered that he has reached out to the community and his company’s “doors are open.”
Tenants say they have also met with City Councilman Bill Rosendahl to address their concerns with the project and are working with an attorney to explore a potential plan to buy the property themselves and update it with environmentally friendly standards.
“We feel like this is a really valuable building historically,” Tietz said. “It’s really a charming place and it so reflects Venice with the way it is here.”