With all five of its members present, the West L.A. Planning Commission last Wednesday approved the appeal of a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for a proposed 49-unit apartment building on Sunset Boulevard.
Local developer Stefano Coaloa owns the prime ocean-view property, just east of the Self-Realization Fellowship and adjacent to existing apartment buildings.
On January 16, the Planning Commission voted 2-2 (with one absent member) on the appeal. As a result, City of L.A. Zoning Administrator Fernando Tovar’s (ZA) decision to approve the CDP for the proposed high-end complex at 17030 Sunset was thought by planning staff to have remained in effect. However, the City Attorney’s office determined that the split vote did not constitute a legal action on the matter and a new vote had to be held when all the Commissioners were present.
The Edgewater Towers Homeowners Association (via Amy Greenwood, whose sole name appears on the Master Appeal Form) had appealed the zoning administrator’s decision to approve the CDP for Coaloa’s proposed development in 2011, citing concerns over geology, traffic and other factors. Nonetheless, after reviewing environmental reports and traffic studies provided by both Coaloa and the appellant, Planning Department staff recommended that the Commission deny the appeal.
The terraced development, consisting of three large fragmented buildings and divided by an artificial canyon (hence the name Sunset Canyon), would have included 129 underground parking spaces and required the removal of 19,000 cubic yards of soil from the promontory overlooking Pacific Coast Highway.
On March 6, the Commission voted 4-1 to approve the appeal. Although the opponents laid out several points against the development, including calling for an Environmental Impact Report, the main point of contention for the divided Commission was the property’s location on a coastal bluff, which has long history of geological issues.
“I was one of the folks that voted against having an EIR,” Commissioner Joyce L. Foster, who had voted against the appeal in January, said during the meeting. “Since then, I went back to the property and spent considerable time there. I don’t know the definition of coastal bluff, but it sure felt like a coastal bluff.”
In 2010, the Pacific Palisades Community Council asked the City to require Coaloa to complete an environmental impact report to further study the Sunset Canyon site. As reported by the Palisadian-Post, the City said that an EIR was not necessary given the scope of the project, and that a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) would be sufficient.
Foster said that “there are things about this project that concern me, but I just don’t have the answers to those.”
All the conditions set forth in California Coastal Commission (CCC) guidelines have to be applied to this property, Commissioner Joe Halper told the board.
“In view of the disparity and requirements of the project description, I believe the ZA erred in certifying the environmental clearance for this project,” said Halper, a Pacific Palisades resident.
There was an error in finding the project consistent with the guidelines because of the question of whether this is a coastal bluff or not, said Thomas M. Donovan, vice president of the Commission, as he read the motion to grant the appeal. “We also find that there was error in granting the appropriate environmental clearance under the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA].”
Donovan’s reasoning for the errors with CEQA were based on factors that included the egress and ingress of the site’s traffic plan, issues with the sewer line and storm drain, and other concerns.
“It was a long, drawn-out battle and I believe the commission finally made the right decision by requiring an EIR so that all the facts can be put together in one document,” said John Murdock, an attorney representing Edgewater Towers Homeowners Association.
If Coaloa’s team were to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision to the Coastal Commission, then the CCC would most likely require an EIR for the project.
Coaloa said after the meeting that he “just wanted to build something great for the Palisades.” He did not comment when asked if he would appeal the decision to the CCC.
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