Ocean views. Dust. Noise. Truckloads. Traffic. Erosion. Earthquakes. Bedrock. Flagmen. Posting bonds. These were the issues that arose when some 40 residents confronted the developer of a proposed 82-unit condo project on Tramonto Dr. at the Palisades Community Council meeting last Thursday night. And when Ken Kahan, owner of the Palisades Landmark project, didn’t have enough answers for them, many walked away angry and confused. While this is the third time he has made presentations before the council, he has yet to meet with individuals and homeowners associations to discuss their concerns, although he has previously made promises to do so, according to several of residents. Barbara Barclay, 67, who has owned her condo at 17337 Tramonto Dr. for 32 years, lives across the street from the proposed project. “That’s 50 feet from the digging, the hammering and the noise,” she said at the council meeting. “I have a serious health problem. Six other neighbors, all older than me, suffer from emphysema and heart disease. I’m very concerned about our quality of life and health. What happens if there’s an earthquake? And what if there are serious rains? We sit 50 feet away from losing our homes and possibly our lives.” Barclay also said that she, along with 14 other families in her condo building, will lose their views when and if the project is built. Kahan purchased the property, located at 17331-17333 Tramonto, in 1999. It occupies 3.98 acres of hillside terrain in Castellammare, overlooking Santa Monica Bay, above the Sunset/PCH intersection. It is zoned RD2-1 (multiple family) and current plans allow for a maximum of 87 units, although only 82 condos are proposed. The design, which resembles an Italian hillside town, consists of six buildings built into the bedrock. Three buildings will contain three levels and include 25 three-bedroom town homes with parking below each unit. The other three buildings, four stories high, will feature 57 three-bedroom flats with parking provided in a subterranean garage. None of the proposed buildings will exceed 45 feet in height. The project also meets the city’s density requirements. If the project is approved, the existing structures on the lot will be demolished, including two apartment buildings (a total of 20 units, displacing an estimated 33 occupants), a swimming pool, and a carport. Given the age of the existing structures, there are concerns about the possibility of finding asbestos on-site. While the construction activity, which is expected to last up to 18 months, will generate dust and fumes from heavy equipment, it is not expected to exceed permitted daily levels of emissions. The biggest challenge for the builders is to stabilize and repair the existing Revello landslide (of 1965) on which the project will sit. This requires digging down to bedrock and replacing it with compacted fill to support the proposed buildings. The plan also includes embedding soldier piles in the bedrock. Because the excavation phase may involve up to 128 truckloads per day, noise from hauling activities “may be a problem,” according to Kahan’s final environmental impact report (EIR), which was completed in December. The report also indicates that the project, as currently proposed, will obstruct views of the ocean as seen from the four-story condominium building located immediately north of the project site (Barclay’s condo building) and from some single-family homes located along Revello. The loss of scenic views is considered to be an “unavoidable impact” of the project. Mitigation includes the hosing down of demolition and construction areas at least twice a day, flagmen to direct traffic and controlled asbestos removal, as well as several other city requirements for a project of this size (some 200,000 sq.ft.). Castellammare residents have been battling the project since it was proposed by Kahan in the fall of 2000. Their concern centers on the advisability of building on a known landslide, where a 12-unit apartment building collapsed in 1965. Kahan, accompanied by Eric Zubiak, the new architect he has hired on the project, as well as Ben Resnik, a community facilitator and attorney who specializes in land use, told the crowd that it is precisely because of the slide problem, which has taken geologists and engineers almost two years to resolve, that the project has been delayed. Another delay was the insistence by the community that an EIR be prepared. “Now we’re ready for the [public] hearing,” said Kahan, in his opening remarks. He then presented the latest rendering, noting that because there had previously been “a lot of misgivings about the elevation of the buildings, ” he has redesigned the project to make it “more palatable” to the residents on Tramonto. Kahan then introduced Zubiak, who gave a slide presentation on the work of his firm, which is based in Newport Beach. One of four managing partners of JBZ Architecture + Planning, Zubiak explained that “We have a lot a hillside and subterranean experience, both planning and building.” In one project, he created what he called “a view corridor” to improve the ocean views in a multiple -housing project in Laguna Hills. On that project, “We listened to the neighbors,” said Zubiak, who also showed slides of Crown Cove, which is nestled on a hillside in Corona del Mar. Built in the early ’90’s there has been “no sliding of the land at all,” according to Zubiak. Lastly, he showed a terraced resort development in Dana Point which has just received Coastal Commission approval. Regarding the Tramonto project, he assured the audience that “we’re going to do everything we can to preserve the views.” “We’re just at the beginning of a formal process,” facilitator Resnik reminded everyone, referring to the public hearing which will be held sometime in March. “We’re not requesting any variances or zone changes. We’ve dealt with noise and construction impacts in the EIR.” Further trying to assuage residents concerns, he added that mitigation is a condition of the project. Then the questions began. “Where will you store the soil,” asked Carl Mellinger, an arborist who represents the Civic League on the council. “It will go completely off site,” said Kahan, referring to the 100,000-cubic feet that will be removed to reach bedrock. “Will you be bringing the same soil back?” “Yes,” Kahan responded. Mellinger then expressed his concern about the impact of the large trucks (“We can use smaller ones,” said Resnik), the haul route that will be used (“PCH and the 10 freeway,” Kahan said) and the resulting emissions. “If you have 128 trucks a day going up and down Tramonto, that’s one truck every 3.7 minutes [based on an 8-hour day]” noted Mellinger. “The people who live up there have to listen to those diesel trucks with their popping air brakes and deal with the immense amount of dust. People will have to hose off their plants and trees, yards will be dirty. I really think it will be a big issue for you guys.” “We agree with you,” said Kahan, noting that he calculated the actual number of homes impacted would be only “about five,” excluding the adjacent condo development. “No, no, no,” responded the crowd, insisting there are a lot more. “Tell us what we can try to do to control it [the noise and the dust],” asked Kahan, to which an audience member replied: “I suggest you provide some simple chain of communication to the project superintendent so people can call with their complaints.” “Who’s going to pay for the cleanup of our homes and yards?” one resident wanted to know. Resnik said that while there is no provision for that (“City doesn’t require it; the law doesn’t require it.”), he suggested the residents get together with Kahan to work something out. The developer agreed to do so. “You have promised to meet with us before, and have not, so far,” noted another resident. Kahan reiterated that he now would. To Mellinger’s inquiry about the landscaping, he was told there is no landscape plan at this time, although one will be submitted as “it is a condition of the project,” replied Kahan. “How are you going to mitigate for traffic?,” asked council member Norma Spak. “All these huge trucks coming and going on Tramonto.” Kahan said that there will be flagmen posted on Tram onto, the only way out of the area, to direct traffic. “I’m not concerned about flagmen,” Spak replied. “I’m concerned about the destruction of the road during construction. Tramonto is going to become a dirt road.” “If it does, then we would have to pay for it,” said Kahan. “But we don’t think it will do damage to the street.” “With all the cement trucks going to other projects, it’s already a washboard. What happens if that road becomes impassable? There are only two roads into Castellammare, Tramonto and Porto Marino.” “A lot of road improvement work will be needed on Tramonto once the project is complete,” admitted Resnik. As for Kahan’s plans to go to bedrock (which will require digging down 6 to 9 feet), residents expressed concern that it will trigger another landslide. “This is a slide area,” noted council vice-chairman Art Mortell, who is concerned about the geological studies that have been done on the site. “The people living above [the project], will they be safe if a big series of storms comes through, or will your efforts create instability? Can you say with 100 percent certainty that it won’t slide?” “As it is now, it will slide,” Resnik responded. “Yes, the homes above are in danger of sliding. It has taken two years of studies by the city to deal with the complexity of this problem. This is why we are installing the soldier piles, and there will be on-going inspection of the site. This is the number one safety concern for the project.” “What will be done to ensure stability?” council member Barbara Kohn wanted to know. “With what we are planning to do we are effectively repairing the slide,” said Kahan, from which he said all residents will benefit. “Recompaction will strengthen the hill.” “I own the building directly below, on Castellammare,” said Rosemarie Haynes. “We have 14 units. Our fear is how this will affect drainage on our site.” “There’s a drainage plan for the recompaction,” said Kahan. There was a suggestion that Kahan issue a bond, should that not be the case or if mitigation is not met. “We’ve all been through a lot of construction in the Palisades,” noted council treasurer Patty Post. “And we know the city doesn’t enforce conditions. I think we need some kind of escrow account, fines for various violations. Each and every day there will be something because so many workers are involved.” Resident Art Lefay said that while he was impressed with architect Zubiak’s presentation he felt that “50 units” would be a much better fit, which garnered applause. The most positive support for Kahan’s project came from local realtor and council advisor Paul Glasgall, who thought it would “enhance the neighborhood. Since the slide 35 years ago the city hasn’t done anything to alleviate the problem. This is an opportunity to work with a developer who wants to stabilize this hillside and build something nice and provide an opportunity for the council and the neighbors to work together.” No date has yet been set for a public hearing on the project.
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