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Brentwood neighbors not sold on developer's vision

Saltair Terrace residents still don't like billionaire Charlie Munger's plans for the site that housed Dutton's bookstore

April 25, 2010|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times

To the residents of Saltair Terrace — a peaceful cul-de-sac just a block from busy San Vicente Boulevard — Brentwood just doesn't need the retail complex that billionaire Charles T. Munger wants to erect in place of the landmark structure that once housed Dutton's bookstore.

"The beauty of our neighborhood is we've got three tailors, world-class restaurants and groceries — all within three blocks," said Amy Ziering, a documentary film producer who lives on the petite street directly behind the project site. "We have huge traffic congestion. I put the question to him about why we needed it and was met with silence and sputtering."

Munger, 86, has spoken passionately about his desire to build the Brentwood Town Green — a village-style center with boutiques, eateries and outdoor seating areas. According to a lavishly illustrated booklet distributed to neighbors, the development would be an "especially user-friendly two-story version of Brentwood's much loved" Country Mart near 26th Street and San Vicente about a mile west.

Ziering and like-minded neighbors plan to voice their objections Monday evening at a Los Angeles Planning Department meeting intended to determine which issues should be addressed in the required environmental review. They worry about noise, traffic, years of construction and, ultimately, reduced property values.

The project would be "a blight on the design, ethos and lifestyle of the community," said Gil Kofman, Ziering's husband.

Munger contends that the project would increase housing values.

The meeting is necessary because Munger has made changes to a previous plan that the city began considering in June. As now configured, the 73,300-square-foot project incorporates 24% more "buildable area" because relatives of Munger's late wife, Nancy Barry Munger, have agreed to include their adjoining property on the eastern end, which houses the Haven & Co. gift and home decor shop and other businesses.

At the western edge, Munger now proposes to demolish two single-family homes facing Saltair Avenue and replace them with one new 4,500-square-foot residence. Neighbors had previously complained about his plan to have parking along Saltair.

The project would be built atop a one-level underground garage.

In response to neighbors' complaints, Munger reduced the amount of restaurant space by 30%.

Munger "has made radical changes to address the concerns and complaints that were noted last time," said Raymond Keller, an architect working on the project.

The changes still don't satisfy residents of Saltair Terrace.

Ziering, whose husband describes her as "fiery" on the subject, suggested to Munger that he build a park instead of a shopping center. To that, Keller said: "This is Brentwood, one of the most desirable places in the country. If it's not Charlie Munger, it will be somebody else. Somebody could come in and build a four-story building or a senior citizens complex."

martha.groves@latimes.com

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