By Krista Schwimmer
There is a storm brewing in Venice, blown in by the winds of change. Some say these winds originated from a statement made in Gentleman’s Quarterly, calling Abbot Kinney Boulevard the coolest street in the United States. Some say these winds arose when the titan, Google, landed in town. Wherever they come from, these winds of change mean business. Big business. Consider this one statistic: At the most recent Land Use and Planning Committee meeting (LUPC), acting chairman, Jim Murez, stated that although Venice is only 1% of Los Angeles, LUPC is reviewing 19% of all city permits.
One of these proposed developments is being called 1414 Main Street. A development team that includes Brian Silveria and Jason Teague scooped up five parcels for this project: 202 Horizon, 208 Horizon, 1422 Main, 1414 Main, and 1410 Main. Although the Main Street side of the project is in a commercial zone, the lots extend back into quiet, residential neighborhoods that are quintessentially Venice. In fact, according to the LA County Tax Assessor website, two of these homes were built in 1911 and 1912.
The proposed development is the following: a 4-story high, 26 unit condominium complex that would include two restaurants, a retail space, a public event space, rooftop decks, and a 3-story, subterranean, 242-space parking garage with a robotic system. The number of parking spaces alone, according to the developers themselves, is 40% above code. At first glance, this amount of parking would seem to be the answer to Venetians’ prayers. At least, that is what the developers would like the public to believe. There are two problems with this idea: one, there is no indication that the parking would be free, even for employees; and two, the development would add more cars, people, and traffic into an already congested area. On top of it all, the entrance to the parking structure would be through the narrow alley behind that links Horizon Avenue and Market Street, not through Main Street.
The height of the development, too, would exceed the normal allowance by 11 feet. In order to qualify for the variance of height and density, Teague and company are depending on California State Law 1818, the Affordable Housing Law. Because they are including 4 low-income units that make up 20% of their total residential units, they are allowed to ask for variances. Ironically, in order to build the complex in the first place, they had to relocate existing tenants from low-income buildings already there in order to tear down the housing itself. One family had been living there since the 1970’s. Despite the massiveness of the development, this proposal really only adds one low income unit, something contrary to local sentiments. In a public, written rebuttal to Jason Teague, Rick Garvey calls this a “brazenly select interpretation” of this law, as well as an attempt “to hoodwink everybody into believing he and his partners have a lawful right to height and density bonuses which not only spit in the face of the Venice Specific Plan but are solely intended for residential projects.”
At the most recent LUPC meeting on December 18th, a standing-room-only crowd of people were at last allowed to make public comments on this project. From a community presentation made by residents directly living in the shadow of 1414 Main, it became clear that there are many legitimate concerns about the development. Using a slide show of the surrounding neighborhood, Irv Katz showed why this project does not comply with the Venice Specific Plan, and thus, does not belong in Venice. In the VSP, the words, “mass, scale, and character,” are like a mantra to ward off demons of development. In one paragraph alone, they are used 12 times! His slide show alone reflected how out of character, out of scale, and overly massive the proposed development is.
Another presenter spoke to the design problems. For one thing, the floor area ratio, or “FAR” for 1414 Main would be 2.4:1 rather than the 2:1 FAR allowed by Affordable Housing Incentives. There was also the 46 feet height of the building being way out of scale with the existing context. She explained in detail, too, just why the project would exceed required setbacks at the residential levels by a wide margin.
The last two presenters in the group presentation focused on the problems associated with construction in the alleyway. According to their presentation, this area has a high water table and is known as a liquefaction zone. Single residences nearby are consistently denied basements for this very reason. There was also concern for how emergency vehicles would get through during and after construction. Both men presenting called for a serious, environmental impact study to be done before even considering digging. The presenters ran out of time before completing their presentation to LUPC. Still, what they did present was precise, powerful, and even unnerving.
Despite the fact that local neighborhoods are vehemently against 1414 Main, the developers have a kind of liaise-fair attitude to the community. One homeowner on Horizon Avenue was told he could move if he did not like the development. At the LUPC meeting, the community learned that the only concessions the applicants are currently willing to make are to remove roof access vestibules, (not the 4th floor), turn the parking garage pedestrian entrance towards the building interior, and widen the alley from 15 feet to 22.5 feet. They have also openly challenged if Venice even HAS a unique character, saying it needs to evolve. So unique is Venice that in Mark Cramer’s book, “Funky Town USA”, Venice was ranked 3rd out of 55 of America’s “best alternative, eclectic, irreverent and visionary places in the country.”
Of course, downplaying the uniqueness of Venice, along with its history, may actually be a tactic the developers are consciously using. Consider, for instance, the area that 1414 Main seeks to disrupt: it is none other than where the original Abbot Kinney canals were built. In an article this year, Nathan Masters wrote about these “Lost Canals”: Cabrillo Canal, now Cabrillo Avenue; Aldebaran Canal, now Market Street; Coral Canal, now Main Street; Venus Canal; now San Juan Avenue; Grand Canal, now Grand Avenue. And, of course, there is also the traffic circle that was originally a lagoon. Should the Venice community, then, allow developers in who scoff at their history? Or rather, should the community seek ways to preserve what little is left of Venice’s unique origins?
Once more, the winds of change are here in Venice. What will these changes bring? Megalithic structures that purport to reflect community needs? Restaurants instead of roofs? More cars and drunken people peeing in our alleyways? Or will these same winds, instead, finally arouse the spirits of the land itself, shaking its inhabitants to the core to really look at their deep values?
Let’s not let the development bullies of the world define our community. As denizens of Venice, let’s join forces and determine what changes reflect the entire communities needs and values, as well as incorporate the rich history that makes Venice a place where both inhabitants and visitors wish to stay. In the words of Aragon summoning the Ghost army to battle, “What say you?”
Stand Up Against 1414 Main!
- Follow the cause at this website: www.veniceagainst1414main.com
- Sign both of these petitions: chn.ge/1kcMHsy and chn.ge/1ixg332
- Attend the next LUPC meeting on Wednesday, January 15th, 6:45 pm, at the Oakwood Rec Ctr
- Write LUPC, the California Coastal Commission, VNC, Councilman Mike Bonin and tell them your concerns
- Stage a protest in front of 1414 Main Street
- Look into preserving this area by making it a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) (http://www.preservation.lacity.org/hpoz)
- Talk to neighbors and friends about this project
- Read more about the history of Venice!