Planning Panel OKs Temporary Limit on Venice Development

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Planning Commission last week approved a broad range of controls on development in Venice that would limit new construction for one year while city officials devise permanent planning guidelines for the small beach community.

The interim control ordinance, which must be approved by the City Council and Mayor Tom Bradley, would reduce height and density limits and increase parking requirements in the area bounded by Marine Street on the north, Washington Street and Via Marina on the south, Lincoln Boulevard and Via Dolce on the east and the Pacific Ocean on the west.

Uniform Guidelines

The commission's approval was seen as a victory for Venice-area Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who was elected last summer on a platform promising greater controls and more uniform guidelines on development throughout her Westside district.

Although several key components of the ordinance were deleted by the commission, Galanter said she may try to have them reinstated by the City Council.

The ordinance brings city standards roughly in line with those set by the California Coastal Commission, which is required by state law to approve building projects in Venice because the city does not have state-approved planning guidelines for the community.

Galanter said the ordinance is designed in part to reduce tensions between the city and the Coastal Commission over their differing development criteria.

City planning officials said they will devise permanent guidelines--known as a Local Coastal Plan--and seek state approval for them while the interim control ordinance is in effect. Once the city has an approved local plan, it can permit or reject projects without Coastal Commission oversight.

Local Plan

The Coastal Commission tentatively approved a local plan for the Venice area five years ago, but told the city to make several changes to it. Then-Councilwoman Pat Russell, who had an ongoing feud with the state commission over its jurisdiction in city matters, never agreed to the changes and the plan was never enacted, city officials said.

"We got the first step in what I hope will be an accelerated, participatory process that will result in a completed local coastal plan for Venice," Galanter told reporters after the commission approval on Thursday. "My most important concern is that we get this thing moving."

The ordinance would cut in half the allowable size of most large residential developments and prohibit the construction of more than two units on residential lots zoned for small and medium-sized developments. It also would reduce by varying amounts building heights in both residential and commercial areas, cutting in half the allowable height of some commercial developments in the Oxford Triangle area north of Marina del Rey, for example.

The Planning Commission refused to approve provisions that would have prohibited developers from combining more than two lots for a single project and that would have forced both residential and commercial developers to provide extra parking for large projects.

The commission also rejected a request to declare the controls an urgency ordinance, which would speed up their enactment by about 30 days. The commission also denied a request for two 180-day extensions of the ordinance, voting instead to allow just one 60-day extension.

"We need to keep our feet to the fire," said Commission President Daniel P. Garcia, who argued that extensions might encourage delays.

After the commission vote, Galanter said she and her staff will study the commission's deletions and decide whether to seek their reinstatement when the ordinance is considered by the City Council. Later, a Galanter aide called the commission's decision to delete the provisions "a disservice to the community . . . and the planning process" and predicted that the councilwoman would work to add at least some of them to the final ordinance.

Differing Reactions

The control ordinance, which Galanter hopes will take effect within two months, has gained widespread support from residents and homeowners' groups. But some developers and large property owners have decried it as an infringement on their property rights.

"It is really taking away your property without compensation," complained Marvin Gayle, who said the proposed controls would limit him to three rather than nine units on residential property he owns in Venice. "There is a lot of old property in this area that needs to be replaced. Otherwise the area will continue to be a depressed area."

Some developers complained that many requirements included in the city ordinance are in fact more restrictive than the standards followed by the Coastal Commission and that all of the city requirements are more inflexible than the state ones. The Coastal Commission standards are regarded as non-binding guidelines, which the panel often chooses to ignore. By contrast, the city ordinance would be law.

Representatives of Marina Gateway Properties, who have proposed a 16-acre commercial and residential development in the Oxford Triangle area of Venice, were among the most vocal critics of the interim control ordinance.

Oxford Triangle fell under temporary building controls in 1986 while the city drafted a set of separate development guidelines for that area. Marina Gateway officials said it would be unfair to impose another round of restrictions on their property.

Single Planning Unit

But Galanter said it is crucial that the entire Venice area be considered as a single planning unit so that parking, density, traffic and other concerns common to the entire community can be considered at one time. The Planning Commission was divided on the issue, but three of its five members eventually voted to include Oxford Triangle in the ordinance.

Burt Pines, an attorney representing Marina Gateway, said the company opposes the interim control ordinance, but said the commission's decision to limit the controls to one year alleviated many of the company's concerns.

Pines said the company would not seek city approvals for the proposed Admiralty Place development within the next year.

"We would have had real problems with two years of controls," Pines said. "It is just not fair to tie up people's property that long."

Galanter, who expects to begin holding public workshops on the Local Coastal Plan this month, predicted lobbying over the interim control ordinance will intensify in the next week or so as the City Council prepares to consider it.

"I suspect there will be behind-the-scenes lobbying by all sorts of people," said Galanter, when asked if she expected swift City Council approval of the measure.

Douglas Newhouse, who represents homeowners in the Oxford Triangle area, who favor the ordinance, said residents will be certain to let council members know how they feel.

"We are very pleased," Newhouse said after the commission vote. "But it is not the end. We are going to have to work extremely hard to protect our neighborhood."

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