3 Big Victories: Oversized Hotel Voted Down

By Jim Smith

After nearly two years of meetings, hearings and general PR and BS, a big hotel project with rooms in excess of $200 a night has been unable to elbow its way into Venice.

The Ray Hotel, a project of The Ambrose Group – which has another hotel in Santa Monica – reached the end of the road, Sept. 19, when the West L.A. Planning Commission voted 5-0 to reject the project.
From the beginning the hotel had exceed the dimensions of the Venice Specific Plan for maximum height and density. The five-story hotel would have towered 65 feet in places, in spite of a 30 foot height limit for buildings near the coast.

The hotel was to be located at 901 Abbot Kinney Blvd., directly across the street from Westminster Elementary School. It seems that there are no local or state laws against having a building full of transients overlooking a school.

The project had divided Venetians from its first presentation at the Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) of the neighborhood council.

This reporter had never been neutral about the project. According to the minutes of the Dec. 7, 2005 meeting, I urged the committee to send the developer packing since they were so contemptuous of the Venice Specific Plan. A lot of time and trouble could have been saved had the LUPC taken my advice. North Beach resident Carmel Beaumont also spoke against the hotel. Regardless, the LUPC voted 7-0 in favor of the project.

At a follow-up meeting, several of the neighbors of the proposed hotel spoke against it, but their protests fell on deaf ears.

Support or opposition seemed to fall along class lines. Those who could afford going to the two plush restaurants at the hotel gushed about the cutting edge design and how “green” it would be. Those of us who avoid yuppie restaurants thought more about the traffic it would generate, and the precedent it would set for more upscale hotels coming into Venice.

Ambrose went all-out to get political clout. It retained as its spokesperson, Kristen Montet Lonner, one of former councilmember Cindy Miscikowski’s aides. For even more influence, Cerrell Associates, a big-time downtown lobbying firm, also was retained.

In spite of the support of some Venice blogs, architects and business organizations, there were more of us than them. The growing opposition to the hotel influenced councilmember Bill Rosendahl to take a stand against the project.

At the West L.A. hearing, the preponderance of residents in opposition, the flagrant violations of the specific plan, and last-but-not-least, Rosendahl’s opposition, were crucial to moving the commission to its unanimous opposition.

Promises from The Ambrose Group of a crosswalk and other gifts to Westminster School convinced the principal, Betty Coleman, to speak in support of the project. The hotel also pledged to pay a living wage and institute a local hiring program, however, none of its promises were enforceable.

“Am I the only one here who sees the irony in a boutique hotel which purports to hire lower-income residents from the community – when in effect these high-end developments are pushing these same residents out of the community because they won’t be able to afford to live there anymore?” testified Gail Rogers, a North Beach resident and teacher.

Rosendahl planning deputy, Grieg Asher then urged the commission to either vote the project “up or down.”
At the end of the hearing, Joyce Foster, president of the commission invited the Ray Hotel developers to come back with a plan that did not violate the Venice Specific Plan. In the meantime, Venice remains the People’s Beach.

Posted: Mon - October 1, 2007 at 08:21 PM