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Tibby Rothman: “6 Reasons the AK Hotel is Not Smart Growth”

Tibby Rothman: 6 Reasons the AK Hotel is Not Smart Growth

ElectricBlog by Tibby Rothman
A better description would be the Electric Avenue hotel. That’s where the hotel’s parking entrance/exit, night lights, operating noise, and room-balconies are located. One block into the neighborhood on narrow Electric Avenue. This project will force a wave of redevelopment into the community. – T.R.

If you want to give props to a development team for a brilliant marketing job, you’d have to give it to the pros behind the AK Hotel.

They’ve pushed the de facto block-long project with drawings that make narrow Electric Avenue, which will be the parking entrance, look like the Champs Elysees. They’ve substituted talk of its precedent setting nature with breezy promises of a spa and a new hangout. They’ve sold it broh-style, a lifestyle not a profitable-business.

Through this all, what has surprised me, is just how many Venice locals have approached me to say they’re against this thing. Established people. People with real estate interests. People who’ve been asked personally to support it by someone on the development team. People you would think would be for it.

Maybe it’s because they recognize that the AK Hotel moves all of Abbot Kinney’s impacts—traffic, noise and parking mess–one block deeper into the neighborhoods. The developer controls a de facto block on Abbot Kinney but still – it’s not enough.

1. It should be called the Electric Avenue hotel. If your block is feeling the heat of too much traffic and too little parking because of Abbot Kinney—the AK Hotel moves the incursion one block deeper into the community.

It puts a new coffee shop, the car entrance and exit for an 85 rooms hotel that’s going to have pool parties, events, screenings and a spa on Electric.

How are people going to live across the street from this 24/7 operation? If the traffic doesn’t get to them, what about the noise from late night pool parties. If the trucks don’t push them out, the light pollution will do them in.

Unlike hotel guests they can’t call the front desk. They’ll just sell or if they are renters, they’ll move. And after each block goes through its re-construction the next will have to. Will the city rezone the north side of Electric Avenue to live-work or office space and, from there, where does it go. This is not planning.

My question to you is: where do you live in Venice? Because this projects sets the table for businesses on Lincoln Blvd, Main Street and Rose Avenue to use residential buffer streets as de facto commercial streets.

2. This isn’t just an Oakwood issue. Commuters and visitors will use neighborhood streets, Oakwood Avenue through the Walk Streets. Or Cabrillo Avenue on the other side of AK.

Electric Avenue will have to become one way.

It already is a de facto one way street. Now consider this:

The hotel will use an automated, robotic parking system plus two car-elevators to drop and bring up the automobiles from below grade parking.

Let’s say the elevator for arrivals only take a minute or so to get the car to the destination floor. But add in…

…the amount of time it takes the valet to get your car into the elevator. How long will that take? Now, what’s going to happen once the valet opens the car door for a guest? What luggage will need to be pulled out? What if a cell phone call to the guest interrupts the process? Or a make-up check, gotta touch up the lipstick.

How long will it take to back up? I talked to a former planning commissioner yesterday, he told me that automated parking systems frequently back up. When asked at a public meeting last week, the development team did not know how long the parking mechanism took to park or retrieve cars on the parking level.

This is relevant to traffic back ups on narrow Electric Avenue.

Even if the elevator never breaks down what happens when there are simultaneous arrivals?

You’ll feel it in surrounding streets.

The developer has made a big deal about how they have a larger arrival area than Shutters or the Hotel Erwin. But neither of those projects have a similar traffic scenario to Electric Ave. And, although they say their staging area can accommodate twelve cars, the actual through-line to parking will start backing onto the street entrance once five cars are in the queue.

3. The City of Los Angeles does not include traffic impacts on Electric Avenue in a nine-page report on the project.

(And btw even by their must recent numbers the hotel means 654 new car trips to that block.)

If you’re reading this on your iPhone or Blackberry as you sit in traffic on Lincoln Blvd or Abbot Kinney Blvd., you know the results of all of those city studies that say a new development has no significant impact on traffic.

Even though the hotel’s entrance and exit is on Electric Avenue, numbers for that narrow street, one of the smallest in Venice, weren’t included in a traffic summary.

And the hallucinatory formula for traffic generation doesn’t include chauffeurs ferrying people to informal meetings, paparazzi who are more worried about stalking prey then a residential neighborhood.

Did the DOT not notice that—cars traveling on Electric must already pull over to let opposing traffic through. For all intensive purposes, it is already a one way street.

I bike and walk as much as possible. For a few years I took the bus everywhere, I still think it’s the best way to get from Venice downtown. But this project will emanate traffic on a challenging street.

4. Read the small print.

To make all this palatable, the neighborhood council’s land use committee have recommended seven “conditions” be placed on the hotel in terms of traffic and parking operations.

Over four-hundred and fifty words on how truck drivers, vendors, valets, and guests can come and go. Really?

So, will the city assign a Building and Safety Department employee to Venice to make sure they’re followed?

Because truck drivers never run late, or early, or are rushed, and Fed Ex package deliveries don’t ‘just have to be there.’ And valets on Abbot Kinney never get backed up. And construction crews will care more about neighborhoods than running a job on time, even if it means they’ll get fired.

And, no one will ever double park on Electric Avenue so they can rush in to the coffee shop for an a.m. java fix.

(And btw, LUPCs conditions omitted hours of afterschool programs.)

5. The hotel needs a Conditional Use Permit to operate within 500 feet of residential.

Though the neighborhood council’s land use committee didn’t even address this: the developer knows they need this.

In documents filed with the city, the developer contends that every lot in Venice is within 500 feet of residential (an assertion that a friend of mine who is a developer disputes) so basically this is an undue hardship. They should just be given the permit.

The developer’s solution is to put the hardship on the neighborhood instead.

They claim that the city needs a hotel just like Santa Monica. But look at that city’s major hotel row: It’s on five-lane-wide Ocean Avenue. Shutters is not on a cut through street but a dead-end at the beach.

6. An 8-lot consolidation violates protections put into local planning rules to keep Venice from being just another mall haven or gated community enclave.

Why do people keep coming up to me and saying they still think the hotel is too big?

Well, they’re disturbed that this project runs a de facto block when planning rules for the area prohibit new commercial development on more than two-adjoining lots. They can get a three-lot consolidation only under very specific circumstances.

The development team has gone the “It’s better to look good than feel good” approach on this issue—using pretty pictures to paper over the fact that the project shreds the intent of rules governing lot consolidations.

I’ve heard/seen a number of arguments about why the development team says they comply with this rule. One member of the development team told me that the project only consolidated three lots and that city records weren’t up to date. But the documents I saw in the city files listed all eight properties. Another team member wrote me that larger lot consolidations could be beneficial. They’ve also said that the hotel is a residential usage which would make it a mixed use, not a commercial project. Meaning they could fall under different rules. But three city planners I talked to tell me that a hotel is a commercial usage.

No matter, what changing arguments they use, if this project passes, it will open the door for such mega projects on the south side of Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Rose Avenue and the west side of Lincoln.

These projects will match the hotel’s traffic and parking problems on a block near you, all thanks to a broh deal. More than that, it negates planning. It’s not smart growth at all.

The Venice Neighborhood Council will consider this project on Tuesday night, February 18 at 7:30PM. The meeting is at the. Westminster Elementary School Auditorium, 1010 Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

If you have a point of view on it, you can e-mail our neighborhood council peeps, our city councilman, and the West LA Planning Commission. Make sure to put the project address and case number in your subject line and a “opposed” or “for.” Here are the e-mail address:

1033 S Abbott Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291: CASE #APCW2012-3354

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