Planning Commission OKs developer’s plan to set a new building height record in Mar Vista

By Gary Walker

Rendering for Mar Vista building

Despite the staunch opposition of many in the community and Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, plans to construct what would become the tallest building on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista continue to move forward.

On April 20 at L.A. City Hall, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission voted 5-0 to deny an appeal by neighborhood groups asking commissioners to rescind approvals for a six-story project on the southeast corner of Venice Boulevard at Wasatch Avenue, about two blocks west of Centinela Avenue.

The 77-unit complex with 2,100 square feet of ground-floor retail would replace a two-story strip mall and stand about 83 feet tall, dwarfing surrounding buildings. Dozens of residents take issue with the building’s height and have complained that it would set a dangerous precedent for a wave of tall, out-of-scale buildings along Venice Boulevard.

The current zoning for the 12444 Venice Blvd. site does not place limits on building height.

Pamela Day, managing partner of real estate developer Crimson Holdings, says the new building would set aside seven units for affordable housing and be among the first west of the 405 to specifically reach out to local artists as tenants for affordable units.

Calling it the “poster child for transient-oriented development on the Westside,” Day told the commission that she designed the building to increase bicycle traffic on Venice Boulevard by providing 89 bicycle spaces.

In what the commission suggested was unprecedented, Bonin’s office offered a resounding denunciation of the proposal. Council office senior planner Ezra Gale told commissioners that Day has been uncooperative with community groups during the planning process.

“Our office has tried very hard to work with the developer, but the developer has shown an ability to antagonize those in the community who disagree with her,” Gale said. “The developer has displayed a lack of interest in working with the community and has displayed a lack of interest in working with the council office.”

Gale also said the building is incompatible with Mar Vista and, if built, would be the “tallest building in Mar Vista on Venice Boulevard.”

Although he voted to deny the appeal, Planning Commission President David Ambroz noted how strenuously Bonin’s office is against the project.

“During my four years on the commission, I’ve never heard the level of objection from a council office about a project,” he said.

Commission Vice President Renee Dake-Wilson counseled Day to start communicating with those who have concerns about the project.

“I’m sympathetic to the need for more housing, especially on the Westside, and for people who want to live near to where they work. But I want to strongly stress that not working with the council office and the community is detrimental,” Dake-Wilson warned Day.

Nevertheless, Day was thrilled with the unanimous vote in her favor.

“We are excited to move forward and build the housing that the Westside so badly needs,” she said.

Bonin, who has the power to call the project up for City Council review, was not.

“I’m disappointed in the Planning Commission’s decision. While I certainly support more housing and think Venice Boulevard is an appropriate location for it, the height of this project is incompatible with the neighborhood and is a striking and jarring contrast to nearby properties,” he said. “I will work with neighbors and do everything in my power to ensure that City Council has the opportunity to shrink the height of this project and move the parking underground so that the building better integrates with Venice Boulevard, which we are transforming into a pedestrian-friendly Great Street.”

One of a handful of speakers at the hearing in favor of the project was Leonora Yetter, a 26-year-old Santa Monica resident who works for housing construction advocacy group Abundant Housing L.A. — which a month ago was on the same side as Bonin in opposing the failed anti-development initiative Measure S.

“Los Angeles has not built enough housing for the millennial generation [or] for other generations, so we need more housing,” Yetter said.

Speakers against the project greatly outnumbered proponents.

“I’m really concerned about this project going forward because of its size and scope,” said Mar Vista resident Lori Christopher, echoing the general consensus among opponents.