Warner Lot project gets reprieve

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Over the objections of a nearby homeowners association, the Planning Commission voted unanimously at its Jan. 10 meeting to give urban development and property management firm Samitaur Constructs another extension to develop a five-story parking structure with restaurant and retail space in the Hayden Tract.

Samitaur, owned by developer Fredrick Smith, had applied for several extensions since the project was granted planning approvals in 2008. After asking Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld to administratively approve another extension in November, Blumemfeld asked Samitaur to come before to commission to officially ask for more time.

Blumfeld told the commission that he told Samitaur that he had become concerned about the developer’s ability to complete the project.

The multi-story development, in addition to having 775parking spaces, would include 41, 520 square feet of retail and 10,000 square feet of restaurant space.

The development site is 8511 Warner Drive, a former city-owned parking lot purchased by Samitaur in 2005.

The extension is for one year and Planning Commissioner Kevin Lachoff attached the condition of a mandated report after six months to assess how the project is progressing.

Samitaur will also be asked to contribute to a mobility fund, which is part of a set of recommendations of Culver City’s Transit Oriented Development Visioning Study.

Dylan Daggett of Eric Owen Moss Architects, the firm that is designing the project, acknowledged that the project is behind in its original completion projections. He asked the commission to take into account other developments that Samitaur and Moss have completed in Culver City over more than a decade.

“What you see before you is a very small project.  It represents an amenity for the workers of the Hayden Tract, which will keep them in the Hayden Tract. Needless to say, our project has taken a lot of time,” Doggett admitted. “In our view it’s a good neighbor project.  It’s sort of in the linages of the Hayden Tract.

“There’s no extra agenda here.”

Members of the Rancho Higuera Neighborhood Assn. say their neighborhood will bear the brunt of any cut through traffic caused by construction in the nearby Hayden Tract. “We have a horrendous traffic problem and there’s no traffic study here. We’ve grown since [the project was first approved]. They need to start over,” said association member Donna LeBlanc.

Another Ranch Higuera homeowner, Ken Sand, said Samitaur had brought many “creative unique, place-making projects” to Culver City over many years. Sand added that Culver City and the region are trying to become less reliant on cars and the parking garage might not be in line with the city’s new planning proposals.

“This project is super cool. But 770 parking spots is not what this city needs,” he said.

Doggett said the recession was one of several other factors that had slowed the project down but thinks it is now on the right track again.

While the vote was unanimous, the commission warned Doggett that if minimal progress toward completion had not been made within a year, the next time the result might be different.

“Beyond a year I would probably be in a different place,” said Commissioner Edward Ogosta said.

Orgosta called the hearing “a warning” to Doggett to make progress on the project.

Another caveat is all future extensions will come through the Planning Commission instead of being grated administratively.