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Wave of Protest Greets Proposal for Oceanside Inn at Venice

Times Staff Writer

Ever since Venice architect Tony Greenberg built a beach inn near the little Mexican resort town of San Carlos 14 years ago, he has had what he calls a “hotel bug.”

Greenberg now wants to build an hotel closer to home. With partner Tony Bill, owner of a trendy Venice restaurant, Greenberg is planning a 50-room inn on one of the last vacant lots along the Venice beach.

And if Greenberg thought building in Mexico was difficult, just wait until he takes on Venice’s slow-growth proponents and tough-minded community activists.

Long before final plans have been drawn, long before permits have even been applied for, a group of residents from Venice and neighboring Santa Monica is rallying its troops and energies to oppose the $7-million hotel project.

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The controversy that is brewing in many ways illustrates what has become a classic dispute in Venice. Although Greenberg sees his project as part of a rejuvenation of the beachfront community, others see it as part of an unwanted pattern of gentrification and commercial overkill that threatens Venice’s eclectic character.

The proposed hotel would be the first inn built on Venice’s beach in more than 50 years. Farther north in Santa Monica, five hotels are planned or under construction on or within four blocks of the beach.

Greenberg’s proposed hotel would be built on the northern-most lots on Ocean Front Walk, the three-mile strip that faces the beach, attracts thousands of visitors on weekends and is home to numerous apartment-dwellers.

It would border Santa Monica between two narrow side streets in Venice, Navy and Marine.

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Although plans are still preliminary, the hotel would be three stories with underground parking, 50 rooms costing an average of $140 a night and a 35-seat restaurant only for guests. Greenberg’s drawings show a building with saw-toothed sides so a maximum number of rooms face the water.

Greenberg faces a planning hearing Tuesday, when he must request a zoning change to be able to build the hotel. The zone change has become the first point on which opponents are challenging the project.

The Venice Town Council, a residents’ organization, voted against the project. The Town Council was joined by Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Community Organization, an influential neighborhood group, whose 16-member Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose the project.

Another Venice organization, the Venice Action Committee, has not taken a stand, but several of its members support Greenberg’s efforts.

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The opponents circulated petitions against the hotel and obtained 300 signatures. Many who signed the petitions live in low-income apartment buildings for the elderly on the Santa Monica side of the beach.

A small group of the protesters met last week with City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who represents the Venice area. Galanter also has expressed reservations about the project.

Opponents contend the project would flood the already-congested area with more people and more cars. Access would be cramped and difficult. They also contend that Greenberg’s project violates a handful of zoning restrictions on height and size.

And, they object to commercial use of an area they say should be residential.

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The hotel would attract thousands of “strangers to our block per year who have no vested interest in our community or its quality of life,” Venice resident Barb Palivos complained in a letter to Galanter.

“We don’t want our small, residential street turned into a trendy hotel and restaurant causing severe parking, traffic and noise problems,” she said.

Traffic Concerns

“The traffic is already incredibly terrible there. It’s dangerous,” said Rose Petra, a woman who lives at Barnard Park Villas, a 61-unit building for seniors and the disabled located on the Santa Monica side of the proposed project site.

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“We can’t believe they’re trying to squeeze (a hotel) into that little spot.”

Greenberg attributes the opposition to “no-growth people who oppose everything,” renters who are “deathly afraid of gentrification” and a handful of people acting to preserve their ocean views.

“Every right-thinking person is in favor of the project,” he said.

The architect defends his project, which he refers to as a “bed and breakfast” as a beautiful addition to the Venice beach that harks back to the visitor-oriented attractions that dominated the oceanside community when it was founded in the 1920s.

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“This is offering the beachgoer something that isn’t available, a chance to experience the ocean at night, to watch the sun rise and the sun set, not just an afternoon stroll down the boardwalk,” he said.

“This is a visitor-serving function that is sorely needed in Venice,” he added. “Currently, there only seems to be sunglasses and T-shirts.”

But some people argue that Venice became more residential in the decades that followed its creation. They say there is more than enough commercial activity along Ocean Front Walk and that residential uses should be encouraged and preserved.

“I feel Venice has done its fair share in serving visitors and has opened its arms to the whole city,” said Mary Ann Hutchison, a psychologist who lives a few yards from the proposed hotel site.

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“We’re not people down here saying you can’t build anything . . . (but) property that is residential should remain residential. If they want to build a hotel, that’s fine, but let them build on appropriately-zoned (commercial) land. There is enough commercial land where it could be built.”

‘Perfect Buffer’

Arguing that the project is more residential than commercial, Greenberg said a hotel would be the “perfect buffer” between residences and commercial operations that share space along the Venice and Santa Monica beaches.

Galanter and her aides also see “major problems” with the project, particularly in parking and access, said Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz.

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He said the developer would have to agree to provide the community with additional parking spaces and find a workable way to move cars in and out before he could expect approval from the city.

Greenberg will also have to negotiate with Santa Monica officials since the property abuts that city.

According to several members of the Venice Town Council, Greenberg has been inflexible in negotiating with the community. It has become common practice in Venice, Santa Monica and other areas where property is prized but slow growth is king for developers to work with the community on ways to compensate for traffic, pollution and noise problems that their projects might create.

Changes Sought

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“They (Greenberg and Bill) made it pretty clear they wouldn’t make changes in what they’re proposing and that it was not negotiable,” Dell Chumley, president of the Town Council, said.

“They thought they had a pretty design and were going to stick with it.”

If negotiations between Greenberg and the community reach an impasse, the project may be doomed.

To be able to build, Greenberg must solicit a change in zoning for the property, which would consolidate 10 lots into one. The property has a C-1 commercial zoning but a new community plan--approved but technically not in effect yet--changes the zoning to residential. Greenberg on Tuesday will ask the zoning be changed to C-1.5, a commercial zoning that allows larger construction than C-1.

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The city planner in charge of the case, Richard Ferguson, is recommending the change be denied. But regardless of what a hearing examiner finally decides, the recommendation is not binding. Ultimately, it will be the Planning Commission and City Council that decide.


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