Venice Neighborhood Council Approves Hotel for Abbot Kinney Boulevard
By Paul Chavez
A developer’s plans for a three-story hotel across the street from Westminster Avenue Elementary School was narrowly approved Tuesday night by the Venice Neighborhood Council’s board despite vocal public opposition.
The council’s board voted 9-7-1 in favor of the boutique hotel project on the western end of trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard in front of a sometimes unruly standing-room-only audience.
The 67-room hotel was proposed by property owner Dan Abrams who addressed the crowd of about 300 people inside the Westminster Avenue Elementary School auditorium.
“I am not a develolper, I am an entrepreneur and film producer,” said Abrams, who has lived in Venice for more than 10 years.
The project’s architect David Hertz outlined the reasons the project should be approved after mentioning that his great-grandfather lived in Venice and his first studio was on Washington Boulevard.
“I love this community,” Hertz said.
Abrams bought the bulk of the property in 2007 and for the past 18 months has been seeking approval for the hotel project at 1033 Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
After 12 community meetings and nine Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPAC) meetings the project was approved 6-1 by the council’s planning committee overseen by chairman Jake Kaufman.
Kaufman pointed out the project was not seeking any variances or exemptions and met the height requirement laid out in local zoning codes. He also noted that Abrams and Hertz had made numerous changes over the past 18 months based on community feedback.
Hertz said the hotel would employ 25 to 30 full-time workers and would have no impact on traffic.
He promised the hotel’s design would make it “look like it’s always been here” and urged support for the independent, locally-owned project.
Board president Linda Lucks and board member Sylvia Aroth recused themselves from the deliberations and voting because they work for a non-profit housing group that has received donations from Abrams.
Board vice-president Marc Saltzberg was at the helm during the presentations and lengthy public comment over the project.
Venice activist Marta Evry delivered a 15-minute slide presentation on behalf of many residents opposed to the hotel project.
Evry urged the board to vote against LUPAC’s support of the project based on six reasons.
First, Evry said that LUPAC based its recommendation on incomplete and misleading information. Second, she said the multi-lot project did not fit with the mass, scale and character of the neighborhood. Third, she said the project would set the precedent of recognizing a hotel as residential property.
Evry also challenged the project’s impact on parking and traffic and said it raised public safety concerns being located across from a school.
The conclusion of her presentation was met with rock concert applause from the audience that clapped and whistled.
More than 40 residents in support and against the project addressed the board. Some in the back of the room heckled the speaker selection process and disrupted speakers in favor of the project, forcing Saltzberg to stop the meeting several times to restore order.
One of the prevailing arguments in favor of the project was that Abrams was a known entity who could be trusted to develop the properly with the community’s interest in mind. Proponents of the hotel argued that if the project was not approved, the lots would be sold off to different owners who could build less attractive projects on the site.
“Better the devil you know,” said one resident.
Brian Kinney of Venice Alert said 645 signatures had been gathered on a Change.org petition opposing the hotel project. He said most of those who oppose the project commented on its mass, scale and character and were worried that “Third Street will be coming to Abbott Kinney Boulevard,” a reference to the massive pedestrian mall in Santa Monica.
Some of the community’s most active members had different views on the project.
Jim Murez – who runs the Venice Farmers Market, lives near the proposed project and is a LUPAC member – voiced his support for the hotel. Murez pointed out that land-use workshops in the 1980s designated only a few blocks where hotels could exist in Venice and the proposed project was inside that area.
“I think it’s a great project,” Murez said.
Former board member Caroline Rios warned that approval of the project and its lot consolidation would lead to more lot consolidations and larger scale projects in Venice.
Sue Kaplan, chair of the ad-hoc Mass, Scale and Character committee, said she was opposed to the project.
Mark Kleiman, co-chair of the ad-hoc Public Safety Committee, said dozens of parents of elementary school students had not even heard about the project.
Due to time constraints, about 25 people in favor of the project were not allowed to speak and about 35 people who were opposed to it were not able to address the crowd.
Eleven of the board members commented on the project before they voted.
Board member Marisa Solomon chastised those who disrupted other speakers, just a month after Los Angeles City Councilman asked for better civil discourse in the community.
“Shame on you for being disrespectful,” Solomon said to boos from the audience.
Eduardo Manilla said he was voting against the project because he feared a new hotel corridor could be established on Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Helen Stotler said her vote would reflect the community’s opposition to the project.
Cynthia Rogers agreed with board members Thomas Elliott and Erin Sullivan Ward who noted the developers had listened to the community and made changes to the project. Rogers said she also was deferring to LUPAC’s recommendation since they had vetted the matter for over a year.
The hotel project will next be considered by city’s Zoning Administrator, but a hearing date has not yet been set.
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