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Playa Vista Developers Win Friends

Times Staff Writer

In the 30 days since Maguire-Thomas Partners took over as managing partners of the Playa Vista project, the Santa Monica-based developers have made more progress in winning over community members than the previous developer did in several years, some community leaders said.

Although most community leaders are withholding support for the project until new plans have been submitted for the 957-acre parcel south of Marina del Rey, some said they believe Maguire Thomas is willing to listen to their concerns.

“What I like hearing is that (Maguire Thomas) has invited community members to provide input,” said Adelle Wexler, a Westchester community activist.

The original developer, a subsidiary of Howard Hughes’ Summa Corp., has mired the project in controversy over density and loss of nearby wetlands. Preliminary plans approved by the city and the state Coastal Commission in 1986 allow for 8,837 housing units, 5.9 million square feet of office and research space, 970,000 square feet of retail space, 2,400 hotel rooms and a 40-acre marina with up to 900 boat slips.

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Wetlands Set Aside

In addition, Summa agreed to set aside 175 acres of wetlands and 41 acres of sand dunes and bluffs as a natural preserve. The company also agreed to provide $10 million to the National Audubon Society to restore and maintain the wetlands.

Nelson C. Rising, who heads the development team for Maguire Thomas, has promised a “fresh look” at the project, and has been meeting with community leaders to hear their concerns.

Rising has been telling community leaders that his company is also concerned about the project’s density, the amount of wetlands being preserved and potential traffic problems. “We are sincere in taking a fresh look at the project,” Rising said. “I have been gratified that there has not been any hostility.”

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One indication of the community’s new working relationship with Maguire Thomas was a Planning Department public hearing Tuesday night. Although the agenda involved a routine technical issue to clarify language in zoning documents, there was little anger or protest. Angry community members in the past have taken advantage of public hearings to express negative views.

Open Communication

“I wouldn’t view the meeting as a test because it was more of a technical matter, and that would be unfair to the community members who have some opposition to the project,” Rising said. “However, we have spent a lot of time talking to community leaders, and I perceive an optimism in the community.”

That optimism is shared by some community leaders.

“I feel that there is open communication, that they have invited us in on the ground floor,” said Wexler. “I look forward to working with them on Playa Vista.”

Terry Marcellus of the Westchester Vitalization Corp., a nonprofit group of local business people, said he wanted to listen to what Rising had to say, but the meeting ended up with Rising listening to his concerns.

“It definitely was a meeting where he wanted to hear what my concerns were,” Marcellus said “There was nothing he wanted to impose on me.

“It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there is something clearly different about this developer. I didn’t feel like I was being lectured to like in the past.”

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