For Robin Swicord, the street she lives on in Santa Monica's Ocean Park is a mixture of turn-of-the-century Craftsman bungalows, friendly neighbors who know each other, sea breezes and ocean views.
For Sandy Cherry, who lives a few blocks from Swicord, Ocean Park is "the dump of Santa Monica."
Those contrasting views underscored debate last week over a proposal to build nearly 80 condominiums on five empty lots along 3rd Street in the heart of Ocean Park. The land has been vacant for about 16 years.
People like Swicord are fighting the proposal, saying the condo buildings are too large and out of character with the neighborhood. Cherry says the buildings would improve the area.
Ultimately, it was not these opinions but incomplete details and timing that spelled doom, at least temporarily, for the projects.
Plans for 79 Condos
Developer Oscar Katz is seeking permission to build 79 condos on the 3rd Street lots he has owned since 1972. He failed to get a go-ahead from the Santa Monica Planning Commission Wednesday night but says he will appeal the ruling to the City Council later this year.
Katz's applications to build represent nearly a third of all condo permits sought last year in Santa Monica.
Originally, Katz had planned to build 96 condos. But in a meeting July 6, the Planning Commission, after hearing complaints from neighbors, instructed Katz and his architect, William D. Brantley, to reduce the size of the buildings, to break up long facades facing the street and to make the architecture more compatible with the neighborhood.
Residents, most of whom are renters, had complained the buildings would dwarf homes next door.
Katz, Brantley and the neighbors met several times, and the developer and his architect returned to the Planning Commission Wednesday with a redesigned project.
They had reduced the number of condos from 96 to 79, lopped off the third floor on some buildings, widened side yards so as not to block sunlight and moved a driveway to reduce potential noise from cars.
Brantley said he added wooden trellises, stone planters and more gardens and play areas, changing the architecture from a "strong modernist" style to a "San Francisco-townhouse effect," which he described as friendlier and warmer.
"I feel we have gone the extra mile, two miles in this case," Brantley told the commission. "We have met all the real concerns. . . . This is a hands-down win for the city, the residents and the owner."
But before the commission could vote on the condo plans, an environmental impact report had to be certified. That is where the project ran into trouble.
Commissioner Ralph Mechur, saying the impact report left several issues unresolved, voted against certifying it. Because only four of seven commissioners were at the meeting, one vote against certification had the effect of denying the project.
At least one other commissioner, Mehrdad Farivar, said he liked the changes that Brantley and Katz had made, but that the re-drawn plans were submitted too late to allow adequate review, making it likely he would have voted against the project.
Brantley, saying he had worked up to the last minute to incorporate changes, did not submit the new drawings to the city's staff until a few days before Wednesday's meeting. Staff members said that did not leave them time to write a report and recommendations, and some details, such as roof plans, were still sketchy.
"It seems ironic that a developer who takes great pains to go round and round in an attempt to accommodate the neighbors, finally doesn't have the time (to complete the application)," commission member Tom Pyne said.
Nevertheless, the changes that Katz and Brantley made were not enough to satisfy some critics.
"I feel cheated," Swicord, a writer who has lived on 3rd Street in Ocean Park since 1980, told the commission, adding that she thought Katz had a "hidden agenda" of allowing superficial changes while not substantially reducing the project's density.
She was joined by neighbors Femmy DeLyser and Heidi Gralinski, who said the new plans were still too vague. They said they want something built on the vacant lots--most of which are between Marine Street and Ocean Park Boulevard--but that it should be acceptable to the neighbors.
Some of the opponents accused Katz of neglecting the vacant lots, allowing them to become overgrown or littered.
Katz, who over 30 years has built about 100 buildings in west Los Angeles County, denied he had neglected the property. Katz bought the lots in 1972, tore down houses there and took out permits to build 312 apartments. That plan ran into opposition from the Coastal Commission, he said, and subsequent downzoning in the city made it unprofitable to build.
There was support for Katz, too.
"What are these people talking about? Beautiful area? My friends ask me, what am I doing living there. It's the dump of Santa Monica. Why not be grateful (for the condos)?" said Cherry, 73, who has lived in the area since 1961.