If it were almost anywhere else in Los Angeles, it would be just another mini-mall, one of those nondescript collections of unrelated shops where frozen-yogurt stands and "fine" French restaurants face each other across an expanse of parking-lot stripes.
But because of its location near a crowded corner of Pacific Coast Highway, along a street used as a main thoroughfare by hemmed-in Santa Monica Canyon dwellers, a mini-mall being pushed by a developer in Pacific Palisades has run head-on into a political roadblock.
After years of negotiations and modifications to his project along Entrada Drive, developer Lee Benchay recently sought a coastal development permit to build a 24,000-square-foot miniature shopping center without the support of neighboring residents.
They specifically objected to his plan to add another restaurant along the narrow street, already plagued by parking and traffic problems generated by two popular eating establishments and the street's well-traveled entrance onto Pacific Coast Highway.
Earlier this month, James Crisp, associate city zoning administrator, issued Benchay's development permit but turned down his request for a late-night restaurant that the developer considered the cornerstone of the project.
As a result, both sides are claiming victory, and both say they may appeal the city's decision. And the fight over the project--which began two years ago as a 60,000-square-foot development, including a 48-unit residential complex, and has gradually been whittled down to fit the neighborhood--will probably continue long into the future.
"We believe that some project can go here that will make him happy and us happy," said Laura Ziskin, a member of a coalition of neighborhood groups that led the fight against the project. "But this is definitely not the project."
Area residents say Entrada Drive, which is packed by beach-goers on sunny days and is the only southern entrance onto Pacific Coast Highway for many people in the Palisades, is inappropriate for a large commercial development and more restaurants.
The residents, including several television and film producers, argue that parking on neighboring streets is already difficult and that the mall's design would not fit the rural nature of the area.
Attorneys for Benchay, who owns the property that houses the popular Marix Tex Mex restaurant and Patrick's Roadhouse, say the developer has made numerous concessions to neighbors and deserves an opportunity to build the smaller project.
"He has spent a lot of time working on this project, and he's deleted parts of the project to satisfy the community," said Dale J. Goldsmith, one of his attorneys. "He thought that he made substantial concessions to the community, and he's very disappointed that the zoning administrator has prohibited restaurant uses on the site.
"He could build something twice this size on the property, but instead he increased the parking there and decreased the height of the building. He's spent a lot of time and money trying to make it acceptable."
In his ruling, Crisp also prohibited Benchay from including a bar, nightclub, fast-food outlet, arcade or liquor store in the project.
The developer and the neighbors have until Wednesdayto appeal the decision to the Board of Zoning Appeals. If the project is not appealed, Benchay can build the mini-mall without the restaurant or come back with revised plans.
Ziskin and other residents say they have come up with an alternative proposal that would cost considerably less than the $6.6 million the current proposal is estimated to cost. However, their proposal does not include a restaurant, and Goldsmith said Benchay "feels he needs a restaurant in order to make it economically feasible."
Ocean Way resident Mary Chancellor said homeowners in the neighborhood would support a revised project if it was smaller.
"The way it is now, it's too big; it generates too much traffic and compounds an already bad situation here," she said. "People feel strongly about this area because the canyon area is special."
Ziskin says the neighbors want a project built on the site because the current parking area and other unoccupied buildings there are an eyesore.
"What we're trying to do is protect ourselves for the future," she said. "All of a sudden you wake up one day and there are 10 of these things in your neighborhood. We don't want that. But to put something in here that looks like it belongs on Ventura Boulevard is really a bad idea."