Plans for hotel rooms on Abbot Kinney undergo stringent review to inspire public confidence

By Gary Walker

The Venice Place project would put boutique hotel rooms above and behind restaurants on shops along Abbot Kinney Boulevard between Broadway and Westminster Avenue
Rendering courtesy of Wynkoop Properties LLC

Film producer and longtime Venice local Dan Abrams’ plans to develop a boutique hotel and restaurant/retail complex along an entire block of Abbot Kinney Boulevard have been met with both statements of public support and lingering concerns about mass, scale and traffic congestion.

In an effort to tip the balance toward community support for his Venice Place project and alleviate as many concerns as possible, Abrams is doing something developers almost never do: voluntarily spending lots of his own money to conduct an extensive environmental impact report, even though the city wouldn’t require such a time-consuming and expensive analysis.

“This was done out of an abundance of caution. A lot of EIRs are specifically made for much larger projects. We’ve been very cognizant of the issues brought up by the community, and we don’t have any variances in our project,” said Steven Edwards, co-founder of Santa Monica-based firm ReThink Development, who is leading Abrams’ development team for the Venice Place project. The cost of the EIR, more stringent than other forms of review, exceeds six figures, he said.

Cheryl Getuiza, a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning, confirmed that the developer approached the city with the request for an EIR.

Edwards said the team hopes for a late spring or early summer release of the document, after which the public approvals process would resume.

Venice Place would occupy the whole block of Abbot Kinney between Broadway and Westminster Avenue all the way back to Electric Avenue.

If city officials approve existing plans, the project would preserve existing restaurants in that footprint (Felix Trattoria, Neighbor, and the combined Hal’s Bar & Grill / Casa Linda reboot) while adding 80 boutique hotel rooms and four apartments— much of them behind, above or wrapped around the existing buildings.

The new hotel portion would include a spa, pool deck and a rooftop nursery and a sculpture garden. Old and new would be connected by an expansive central courtyard of quiet nooks and public open space that Abrams dubs the Outdoor Living Room.

Venice Place supports say that new hotel rooms could help to calm Venice’s prolific and unregulated short-term vacation rental market.

“I believe in Dan Abrams and I think he has the community’s best interest at heart,” said Venice resident Rachel McDonald, a film and television director, after the Venice Neighborhood Council voted in support of the initial project concept back in 2014.

Marta Evry, a Venice film editor who has been an outspoken opponent of the Venice Place Project, would prefer residential units.

“We need housing, not hotel rooms. If they chose to put housing over retail I could support it, especially if they included an affordable housing component,” Evry said. “But not a hotel, under any circumstance.”

Other opponents argue the whole concept is out of place among existing restaurants and retail, and that tourist traffic will exacerbate gridlock at peak hours.

Elliott Prather, a developer based in Playa del Rey, said developers generally try avoid doing a full environmental impact report not only because EIRs are expensive, but because the results can result in unpredictable changes to the original project.

“The costs of an EIR and possible design changes … could price the developer out of the market. Some developers will not do a project if an EIR is required,” Prather said.

Glen Irani, a noted Venice architect, said requesting an EIR may not be common, but may be a good strategy for resolving community concerns and possible delays upfront.

“It is unusual, but it could thwart an appeal to force the developer to conduct an EIR,” Irani said.

Edwards said he and Abrams believe the EIR shows their desire for total transparency about their intentions.

“This is one step further than we need to go. This project has been analyzed to the Nth degree. It’s all going to code. We’re trying not to be a standard developer,” Edwards said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”