By MATTHEW MEYER | Reporter
It was standing room only in a City Hall hearing room on Wednesday, Oct. 4, with rows of Palisadians vying to weigh in on the early permitting stages of a proposed eldercare and dementia facility in The Highlands.
Associate Zoning Administrator Henry Chu presided over nearly three hours of public testimony, ultimately ruling to delay City Planning’s decision for 30 more days, allowing more time to gather input.
Chu heard first from Brentwood developer Rony Shram and his associates, and then from a snaking line of public commenters, most of whom opposed the project.
Shram’s attorney Kevin McDonnell opened the discussion by asserting that the project is a “by right” use of the Palisades Drive site according to the city’s zoning laws, and had been deemed a safe location by consulting eldercare facility operators and LAFD officials.
He added that because such facilities “unfortunately have infrequent visitors” and most of the residents do not drive, the traffic impact would be minimal in comparison to other commercial uses that the space is zoned for.
The project’s architect also addressed Chu, noting that the building’s pad was set below street-level on the sloped Palisades Drive in order to reduce the practical height of the four-story, 65,000-square-foot structure.
Shram himself detailed the process that led him to pursue an eldercare facility in the space, including his previous efforts to gain community support for a condo project on the lot.
But public comment dominated the bulk of the hearing, with queues of Palisadians—many rallied by the newly formed Highlanders United for Good group—taking their turn to speak.
Most aired grievances: Neighbors were skeptical of the facility’s projected low traffic impact, arguing that delivery trucks, ambulances, employees and resident shuttles would contribute new troubles to the area.
Others, including two speakers who identified themselves as a patients’ advocate and eldercare nurse, questioned the project’s safety, citing issues ranging from Palisades Drive’s steep incline to the building’s ability to evacuate residents in a major earthquake.
There were structural gripes as well, from residents who said that the facility was taller than surrounding townhomes, clashed with the neighborhood’s architectural style and disrupted the area’s natural beauty.
Many said they weren’t aware of the project in its current form until word of that day’s hearing spread through The Highlands through a city-issued public notice.
A few residents did make the trip downtown to voice their support, including a Palisadian who said that he hoped to move his mother into the facility to have her nearby.
Another neighbor invoked the concept of silent majority, saying that many Highlanders quietly supported the project, and called it “offensive” that those who have voiced support for the development were deemed Shram “cronies” online.
Former and current members of the Palisades Highlands
Presidents Council, a collection of roughly 20 homeowners association leaders, shared details of the group’s correspondence with the Shram project, which dates back three years to his initial effort to win support for condos.
But other speakers argued that consulting the council had not been an effective way of reaching residents or representing their interests.
In the end, Chu granted the 30-day extension, citing the reported lack of public awareness as reason to delay the permit decisions (a Site Plan Review and Coastal Development Permit) and give the neighborhood more time for discussion.
Shram will present at the Oct. 26 Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting after the council’s newly formed Land Use Committee considers the project (Chair Howard Robinson was among those at the meeting advocating for the extension).
Shram told the Palisadian-Post that in addition to his PPCC appearance, he’s scheduling meetings with Highlands homeowners to share the project during the extension.
“If there are people who want to know about the project, it’s our job to inform them,” he added. “There were people in [the hearing] who just wanted to hear what was what. To these 30 days, I’m really focused on getting in front of those people.”
Palisadians who wish to submit a comment for the record can email their thoughts directly to City Planner Courtney Shum (email@example.com).