A plan to replace apartments with retail stores along a two-block stretch of Ocean Front Walk in Venice has run into opposition from City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and several neighbors, who charge that the project would worsen traffic and further erode the area's declining housing stock.
Developer Stephen M. Blanchard wants to convert portions of two apartment buildings into shops and a single-story house into a cafe. He also wants to build a two- to three-story mixed-use building on a vacant lot next door to the house.
The buildings are between Dudley and Sunset courts at 511, 517 and 523 Ocean Front Walk. The empty lot is at 601 Ocean Front Walk.
"I think it's an irresponsible project," said Steve Schlein, who lives next to Blanchard's vacant lot and who has been battling the developer's project since it was proposed nearly two years ago. "So far, that portion of the boardwalk has been spared the deterioration that has occurred elsewhere where intensive commercialization has been allowed."
Blanchard said the project conforms to state coastal guidelines that call for businesses catering to beach visitors along the boardwalk. He also promised to replace the housing and parking spaces that would be lost under the plan.
To get approval for the project, Blanchard must secure an amendment to the community plan, which designates the area as residential. A public hearing on the plan amendment took place Feb. 9740319598hearing examiner is expected to complete a report on the proposal by mid-April.
The proposed amendment will then go before the city Planning Commission for a vote. It is expected to come before the City Council, which has the final say, in June, said Jim Bickhart, Galanter's planning deputy.
Bickhart said Galanter will not support the proposal unless Blanchard includes in his application a detailed plan to replace the apartments and parking spaces lost to the project.
"We feel the application is incomplete," he said. "I'm aware of what his ideas are for dealing with that (replacement housing and parking), but they're not part of his application."
Blanchard, however, said the application includes a specific provision for replacing the lost parking spaces. He said he assured Bickhart last November that the lost housing would be replaced in the new building proposed for 601 Ocean Front Walk. He added that he has tried unsuccessfully since then to meet with Galanter to explain the project.
"The thing that really irks me is that everybody wants sensible projects, and when somebody has one . . . you can't even get any meeting, you just get a 'no,' " Blanchard said.
About 140 people, most of them supporting Blanchard, attended the public hearing on the plan. "It's clear that the community is in favor of a mixed-use boardwalk," Blanchard said.
Blanchard plans to convert to commercial uses two ground-floor apartment units in a 12-unit building at 511 Ocean Front Walk. The remaining 10 units would be kept residential, he said.
He also envisions a courtyard shopping mall at 517 Ocean Front Walk, which is currently divided into 17 apartment units. The building was built in 1922 by Charlie Chaplin, Blanchard said.
A clothing boutique in a single-story house at 523 Ocean Front Walk would be moved into the new building to make way for a restaurant, Blanchard added. The new building, in turn, would include enough parking spaces and apartment units to make up for the space taken by the commercial uses, he said.
Bickhart said the matter is complicated because the area is controlled by conflicting zoning laws.
The city's comprehensive zoning ordinance lists the properties as commercial, but the local community plan, which supersedes the zoning ordinance, limits the buildings to residential uses. The Venice Local Coastal Plan, which has not yet been adopted, calls for a mix of commercial and residential uses.
Dell Chumley, the recently elected president of the Venice Town Council, said more commercial development will actually hurt the boardwalk by worsening traffic and limiting access to the beach.
"Our parking problem for residents is severe," she said. "This has to do with the assumption that you are making Venice Beach more attractive to visitors by adding more and more commercial development. In fact . . . maybe people who want to visit the beach and surf are prohibited from getting here by the fact that parking is being taken up by people who come to the flea markets" and boutiques.