Delayed 'Village' phase of Playa Vista development to get another look
Posted: 12/08/2009 07:39:29 PM PST
Playa Vista's long-awaited village core - delayed for more than two years because of a court ruling - will get another look this week from the Los Angeles City Planning Commission.
Developers hope the panel on Thursday will recommend that the City Council approve a new environmental analysis and package of land-use entitlements that could push the second phase of Playa Vista a step closer to completion.
But even then, it will likely face challenges from determined opponents.
The Village is planned for 111 acres within the master-planned development south of Marina del Rey, bringing 2,600 new homes, 150,000 square feet of retailers, 175,000 square feet of office space and 40,000 square feet of community uses to an area described as "the heart" of the neighborhood.
Residents, many of whom are expected to be in the audience Thursday, are eager to see construction start, Playa Vista spokesman Steve Sugerman said.
"It's the exact same project" that won Los Angeles City Council approval in 2004, he said.
"Certainly the feeling here is, we've done all of the analyses that are required. They're comprehensive," he said. "And not only is Playa ready, the community is more than ready to complete this vision."
Although roughly half of the roads were paved and the infrastructure was in place, work on The Village stopped in September 2007 when an appellate court ruled that its environmental impact report was flawed.
Previously, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge had said that the city and Playa Vista provided decision-makers with adequate information. But the appellate court, which combined two separate lawsuits on the matter, found the environmental report lacking in three areas.
The judges questioned the analysis of the project's effects on the nearby Hyperion wastewater treatment plant, the treatment of human remains and artifacts dating back 3,500 years, and whether the city accurately described permitted land uses for the site.
On the last issue, the court said the EIR did not acknowledge that the retail complex would "dramatically increase the amount of development permissible" on the land. Therefore, Playa Vista has been required to seek various land-use amendments that will accommodate a higher-density project.
But one of the plaintiffs in the case argues the plan still should be scaled down, nevermind the revised report and additional analysis.
"Basically, they misstated the beginning conditions," said Rex Frankel of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project. "They should have studied a 50-50 project. Half the project as open space. Half the project as developed."
Frankel said he plans to bring his arguments to the City Council and pursue another court fight.
"There are still major legal problems," he said. "We're readying a lawsuit that's going to wipe this project out, and we have the evidence to prove it."
Playa Vista was counting on Caruso Affiliated to develop its village, which will be within walking distance of residences in its first phase, now home to more than 6,000 people. Caruso designed The Grove in Los Angeles and the nearby Waterside shopping center at Lincoln Boulevard and Fiji Way in Marina del Rey.
The agreement has expired by now, but Sugerman said "our strong sense is that there's actually still significant interest."
Sugerman said the project's revised environmental report has won endorsements from various community groups, including the neighborhood councils of Westchester-Playa del Rey and Del Rey and the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce, among others.
After years of legal delays, the Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday will again weigh the merits of the second and final phase of Playa Vista, a 111-acre expansion that would include housing, shops, office space and parks. The Village, as it is known, would be built between Playa Vista's two existing residential developments.
The community, about two miles inland from Santa Monica Bay between Marina del Rey and Westchester, is home to an estimated 6,500 people. Plans call for 2,600 additional homes, 150,000 square feet of retail space and 175,000 square feet of office space, along with four new parks.
The project was originally approved by the city in 2004, but opponents sued, saying the environmental impact report was flawed. The 2nd District Court of Appeal found that the report did not adequately analyze the potential effects on land use, archaeological resources and wastewater. In May 2008, the city was ordered to vacate the approvals and revise three sections of the EIR.
Bud Ovrom, deputy mayor for economic development, said: "Typically, we support our professional planning staff's recommendation." He said the city was particularly interested in seeing that the retail portion move forward. Developers of Phase 1 office buildings, he said, have found it difficult to lease space because of the lack of amenities, such as restaurants and a grocery store.
"If you want a true sustainable community, you really do need the retail component," he said.
Rex Frankel, a longtime opponent of Playa Vista, contended that the proposed project was too big and dense. He said Playa Vista should increase the amount of affordable housing and parkland.
Playa Vista officials say they anticipate further legal challenges if the City Council ultimately approves the project. Still, they say they could begin construction by the end of 2011.
-- Martha Groves