Homeowners Want Proposed Playa Vista Project Scaled Down
Citing concerns over traffic and building heights, homeowners groups have asked for major changes in plans for Playa Vista, a Summa Corp. development that would bring 18,000 new residents, 3 million square feet of office space and 2,400 hotel rooms to about 900 acres of vacant land near Marina del Rey.
Homeowners, testifying Thursday before the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, charged that tentative zoning plans for the 15-year project would result in worsening traffic on already-overcrowded streets and lead to high-rise office towers that would block the views of many bluff-top homeowners in adjoining Westchester.
“The Westside is already an area of heavy traffic congestion,” Joan Cory, a member of the Venice Town Council, told commissioners Thursday. “The number of jammed intersections will increase. We request the development to be scaled down.”
Homeowners groups butted heads with supporters of the project as the Planning Commission began considering the city’s plan to annex most of the project site--800 acres of land that lies within county territory. The commission is expected to vote early next month on proposed zoning standards for the property, after which the annexation and zoning standards would be subject to final approval by the City Council.
City planners say the annexation would enable the city to modify individual projects before they are built, to boost tax revenues and to require necessary traffic improvements within the project area, which lies along portions of Ballona Creek adjoining Venice, Westchester and Playa del Rey. The area, which contains a large expanse of natural wetlands habitat, is sandwiched between Marina del Rey and Los Angeles International Airport.
Representatives of the city, Los Angeles County and the Summa Corp. have been planning for eight years how best to develop the valuable coastal property, Summa spokesman Christine Henry said. The city began actions to annex the property in 1980, she said.
City planner David Gay said the annexation would make the property subject to the coastal corridor transportation plan, under which developers must contribute $2,000 toward traffic improvements for every new vehicle they add to rush-hour traffic. That plan, written specifically for the Westchester and Venice areas, was tentatively approved by the City Council earlier this month. Final action was scheduled for Friday.
Supporters of the project, including Westside business leaders and real estate representatives, said the annexation would assure gradual improvement of the area’s traffic problems while providing important jobs, recreational areas and housing. In addition to 3 million square feet of new office construction, the Summa Corp. expects to build a 950,000-square-foot industrial park, 870,000 square feet of retail shops and a 40-acre boat marina, a Summa spokesman said.
But homeowners groups dispute figures contained in a traffic analysis of the project.
James Dewar, a spokesman for the Westchester Coalition of Concerned Communities, an organization representing 17 homeowners groups, said the number of cars that would be added to rush hour as a result of the development has been underestimated by more than 1,000. Describing himself as a doctor of mathematics, Dewar said the proposed zoning for the property would result in 11,000 additional cars per day flowing through 19 major intersections in the area--compared to 9,847 cars the city has projected.
“The (city’s) analysis is astonishingly shoddy . . . and should be redone,” Dewar said.
Patrick McCartney, secretary of the 100-member Venice Town Council, urged that more of the property be zoned for housing and less for office and commercial uses, which tend to increase rush-hour traffic. He said more than 4 million square feet of new office space is already being planned on the north side of Los Angeles International Airport and 2.7 million square feet is expected at the proposed Howard Hughes Center, located at Centinela and Sepulveda boulevards in Westchester.
“We are an area that has a housing shortage, not an area that has a shortage of jobs or office space,” McCartney said.
Homeeowners also urged planning commissioners to keep building heights at least 20 feet below bluff tops, which typically rise 100 to 160 feet above the coastal flatlands. Under tentative zoning plans, buildings within 600 feet of the bluffs would be prohibited from exceeding them in height, but some buildings outside that area would be permitted to reach heights up to 600 feet.
In an interview, coalition member Jackie Dewar said the result could be a number of 18-story buildings. “So we’re sitting next to another Century City--or several Century Cities,” she said. “Our major problem is that the proposed development is an overdevelopment.”
City planner Gay, speaking before Thursday’s hearing, defended the proposed zoning, saying the plan would give the city unprecedented power to review individual projects within the site. Even if Summa proposes a project that conforms with the zoning plan, he said, that project would require hearings before the city planning and transportation departments, and disputes would be resolved by the five-member planning commission or the City Council.
In most other areas of the city, developers can build to zoning limits without going through public hearings, Gay said.
“This plan is tailor-made to this area, to this land,” he said.
Other residents questioned whether the city’s sewage system, which has been plagued by recent overflows into Ballona Creek, has the capacity to handle the new development, and whether paramedics and fire trucks could get through crowded intersections during rush hour.
Gay said proposed zoning standards for about 400 acres of the site are the same as those approved last October by the state Coastal Commission. That area is to contain about 200 acres of wetlands habitat, managed under a $10-million Summa Corp. grant to the National Audubon Society, as well a 225-unit senior housing project and other residential development.
The additional 400 acres to be annexed by the city includes proposed commercial areas and coastal bluffs for which the Coastal Commission has not developed planning recommendations, Gay said.