Warner Lot project vote pushed back to January


Hoping to jumpstart a commercial development with a five-story parking structure with restaurant space at the site of a former city-owned parking lot, the urban development and property management firm Samitaur Constructs has now asked city planning officials to delay a decision on their project until next year.

The proposal is for a parking structure on the former Warner Lot at 8511 Warner Drive in the Hayden Tract with 775 spaces, 41,520 square feet of retail and 10,000 square feet of restaurant space.

Samitaur is seeking extensions to several previously city approved  entitlements  for development after its president Fredrick Smith purchased the parking lot in 2006.

The architect of the new plan is the renowned Eric Owen Moss.

The entitlements were secured in 2008 and 2009 and the developer has been granted one-year extensions for seven years, according to a city planning report.

The city Planning Commission agreed at its Dec. 13 meeting to a delay until Jan. 10, where it will hear from the developer about why Samitaur should be given another postponement.

Samitaur asked for an administrative extension on the site review plan a few months ago.  But in a Nov. 13 letter Community Development Director Sol Blumenthal wrote Dolan Daggett, who works for Moss, “I do not believe that I can administratively grant an additional extension at this time” due to construction anchor concerns with the project and the reconsideration of “developing the lowest parking level and further evaluating market trends and additional parking in the Hayden Tract.”

In a controversial 2005 sale, the City Council sold the lot to Smith for $5 million.

Smith had big plans for the site when he bought it over a decade ago but those plans, including the possibility of an amphitheater, never materialized.

The sale, argued its detractors, was completed without competitive bidding and was far below market value. According to the council at that time, the parking lot was “surplus city property,” despite the severe parking challenges that businesses and visitors in the Hayden Tract were facing in the early and middle part of the last decade.

The 2005 project never got off the ground, due to a lawsuit by a Hayden Tract property owner, Scott Martin. A  Superior Court judge ruled in Martin’s favor, finding that the council violated the state’s most rigorous environmental benchmark, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Smith filed plans for a parking garage with the city in 2008.

Smith then presented a plan for a parking structure at the Warner Lot site. Martin and four other Hayden Tract property owners appealed the structure but their appeal was denied in 2009 by the Planning Commission.

Smith later gained approvals for the current project that he is planning.

Samitaur and Moss are also collaborating on 50,000 square foot building at 5860 Jefferson Blvd., not far from the Hayden Tract.

Gary Walker contributed to this story.