The ‘mixed-use’ hotel project moves back to local planning commission despite ‘significant’ community support

By Kellie Chudzinski

A rendering of the Venice Place Project planned for a section of Abbot Kinney Boulevard

The long-awaited and controversial Venice Place Project was vetoed with a 14-0 vote by the Los Angeles City Council in a motion led by Councilmember Mike Bonin on Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Next, the project moves back to the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission (WLA APC), with a meeting scheduled for Oct. 21. In his remarks, Bonin said he was prepared to approve the project, though advisement from the LA City Attorney’s office determined that it would not withstand “legal scrutiny.”

Along with the many conditions added onto the project by the WLA APC, Bonin additionally wanted the project to provide funding for affordable housing in the area, protections for the local Oakwood neighborhood and create a local hiring program at the project site, which he said the applicant “readily” agreed to.

“The number of conditions are extensive and somewhat complicated,” Deputy City Attorney Strefan Fauble said. “This needs to be out in the public longer for them to be able to read it and digest it before we act on this.”

On advice from the City Attorney, the Venice Place Project now moves back to the WLA APC to allow more time for public, opposition and applicant review of the new conditions before moving through the approval process once again.

The WLA APC approved the project with a list of conditions and denied appeals earlier this summer before Bonin asserted the rarely used Sec. 245 of the LA City Charter, allowing councilmembers to assert jurisdiction over the commission.

After Sec. 245 was implemented the project was sent to the City Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee for a special hearing on Sept. 10.

During the Sept. 10 hearing, a WLA APC staffer said the official recommendation was for PLUM and the City Council to deny the appeals, and approve the project during the PLUM hearing. But PLUM sent the project to the Los Angeles City Council’s Sept. 15 meeting, with no recommendation, complying with Bonin’s original request.

During Sept. 10’s special hearing, dozens of local residents voiced support for the mixed-use hotel. Calling the project a “wonderful addition” and “benefit for the neighborhood.”

Opposition to the Venice Place Project is being led by UNITE Here Local 11, People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), and resident Alba Luz Privado.

George Francisco, President of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, spoke at that meeting, calling the organization’s support for the project “long-standing and enthusiastic.”

He added that the project — by bringing more tourists to Venice — would restore tax revenues and help local businesses severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also called on councilmembers to “recognize your duty to the city that is in financial meltdown,” and added, “that putting a hotel in a top tourist destination spot will benefit everyone.”

During his Tuesday remarks to the City Council, Bonin acknowledged that large projects often are controversial in Venice, but the Venice Place Project is unique because of its “significant” community support.

In an official letter to the City Council and at last Thursday’s meeting, UNITE Here Local 11’s union representative took issue with specific city codes relating to the project and with the development being defined as “mixed-use,” which requires a combination of residential and commercial businesses, as well as consideration of impacts on traffic.

Bonin called the zoning code an “absolutely disgraceful nightmare,” though clarified that hotels are often considered residential buildings within city codes.

Along with 78 boutique hotel rooms, the Venice Place Project would include four dwelling units, retail and restaurant space, and was determined to qualify as mixed-use by the Zoning Administrator. The development project has been in the works, on the north end of Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Electric Boulevard in Venice, for eight years.

Residents voiced concerns over the proximity of the project to Westminster Elementary School, with one advocating for school children’s safety. Another parent called the project “good for the neighborhood.” The Zoning Administrator determined in March that the project did not negatively impact the safety
of the community.

Lawyer and member of Citizens Preserving Venice Amanda Seward argued that the three buildings currently on-site should not be torn down based on historic significance.

A staffer from the WLA APC was the last to speak before the Sept. 10 PLUM vote, and noted that the three “bungalows” at the building location were not classified in the historic district, adding there was no substantial evidence for the opposition’s claims.

The representative went on to address the points brought up by the opposition, saying the project was “fully vetted,” qualifying as a mixed-use hotel, and that the report found the 175 parking spots for guests and staff on-site were “adequate” and that potential impacts on traffic were “less than significant.”

Over eight years in development, the project has gone through over 25 public hearings, received six approvals — including from the Venice Neighborhood Council and Zoning Administrator, which was upheld by the WLA APC in its earlier approval.

“The land use regulations governing this project are complex, with overlapping codes and coastal regulations that are specific to the Venice community,” wrote Bonin in an Instagram post to constituents after Tuesday’s City Council vote, adding that the “public will be able to voice its opinion” on the project at the next WLA APC meeting, which is slated for next month.

Visit planning.lacity.org/about/commissions-boards-hearings for updates to the agenda for the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission’s Oct. 21 meeting and for instructions on how to join the meeting via teleconference.

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