Neighborhood Planning Committee Approves "Green" Hotel
By Tibby Rothman
Saturday, July 29, 2006—Evidently it takes a woman to shatter a glass ceiling.
At its Wednesday, July 26 meeting, Venice’s Land Use and Planning Committee gave its nod to a proposal from owner Deirdre Wallace for “Hotel Ray” which will reach a heretofore-sacred 50-foot height for 15% of its habitable area. (The height limit for much of Venice runs 30 to 35-feet.) Large sections of Hotel Ray run 45-feet high—heights that the LUPC refused to cede to the beleaguered MTA-lot development earlier in the year.
The committee had also disapproved a recent proposal for a long-stay hotel known as Pali-House even though the project adhered to the area’s 35-foot height limit, partly because of the project’s woefully inadequate parking but also in response to the project’s communist-block style building mass. (Questions have also emerged as to whether Pali-House is actually a long-stay hotel or, if its use of kitchenettes turn it into a short-term apartment building which would increase the parking it needs to provide.)
Ms. Wallace brought the committee—and Venice—a project that offered multiple mitigation measures and “give-backs” that generated its positive ruling for her requests for variances to height limits and buildable footage (a ratio of 2-square-feet of buildable space to every one foot of lot area, rather than 1.5 square feet to 1).
Her proposal included thoughtful handling of Hotel Ray’s height & mass, and the addition of small-scale, Venice-style retail outlets that could enrich the community by integrating fully with street-life.
Most notable of Hotel Ray’s features is its “green/sustainable building” component.
Questioned as to why she had found success at the Land Use & Planning Committee where other developers and/or owners had failed, Ms. Wallace stated “I don’t think the difference is me, it’s a different project.”
If Hotel Ray earns final approval in its current state by the city of Los Angeles, it will include a 3-floor 57-room hotel, a 90-seat organic-food restaurant and patio, a small store dedicated to sharing environmental technologies, and a surf shop which will greet the public at the hotel’s Brooks Avenue and Abbot Kinney Boulevard Corner. Surf racks will be placed in an exterior, open-to-the public courtyard at that corner and a “rinse-off” area will be offered to local surfers. The project will also feature “green” roof top gardens and a rooftop pool.
Ms. Wallace has already begun to address community requests that “at-risk” youth be given employment opportunities within the project and has an initial conversation with PV Jobs. Speaking to VenicePaper after the Land Use & Planning Committee meeting, Ms. Wallace did not have definitive figures for youths hired as part of the project or what area they would be hired in but did assert that she was committed to it.
But, the driving element of Hotel Ray—for both Ms. Wallace & the planning committee—is the nature of its “green” building. The project will vie for a Leeds Certified Silver Rating—a nationwide, building-industry certification for environmentally friendly structures. Such a certification would mean the project was 24% more energy efficient than California state requirements which are the toughest energy efficient standards in the country, according to local architect Lawrence Scarpa who often designs green buildings.
Ms. Wallace told Venice’s planning and land use committee that the Leeds Certification could not be applied for until after the building was completed. However, project architect Hagy Belzberg listed a retinue of environmentally related elements which would be incorporated in the building such as recycled building materials, shade features and solar generating cells.
In making the motion to approve the project, the Land Use and Planning Committee specified that it was approving the project’s over-height aspects as conditioned by the project’s environmental aspects and other elements seen as beneficial.
Hotel Ray will sit on the lot which once housed the workspace of 20th Century design icons Charles and Ray Eames. Though the Eames’ studio is not officially protected by conservancy, Wallace will preserve much of the historical space transforming it to the lobby of the hotel featuring the Eames’ work as well as other artists. Land Use and Committee members lauded her efforts.
“The fact that she’s trying to make that work is pretty substantive,” another developer told VenicePaper, who noted that the perseveration was a significantly costly measure.
Massing Keeps Sky open to AK
In terms of massing, Ms. Wallace’s project lies at the corner of Brooks Avenue and Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Plans break up the building mass by situating the structure in a T-shape—the narrow end of the “T” abutting Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
The hotel will feature open space where it interfaces with the corner of Brooks Avenue, and on the opposite side of the “T,” where the restaurant’s courtyard abuts Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Height will be concentrated down the mid-line of the property, and also along its back line. Where both lines of the “T” meet, the project will reach its 50-foot-height for habitable dwelling. The LUPC granted Ms. Wallace an additional 5 feet for “mechanicals” related to the hotel’s engineering components such as its solar-power cells.
Ms. Wallace Approaches the Community Prior to the City
The project’s owner, Deirdre Wallace, has diligently approached Venice’s complex, dogmatic and often contradictory planning process.
While most developers run their city application process concurrent to their community hearings, Ms. Wallace has not yet filed for city approval preferring instead to reach community consensus first.
“When we talk about being part of the fabric of Abbot Kinney, we really mean it,” noted Ms. Wallace after the planning committee meeting.
She was accompanied by significant group of supporters at the Land Use and Planning Committee hearing. Of note was Philip Fracassi of Equator Books on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Fracassi would be one of many merchants on Abbot Kinney who would benefit from the high-turnover of deep-pocketed guests Hotel Ray could provide. The street’s commercial district has been in a constant fight-for-survival mode during recent years as retail rents have skyrocketed. Last Christmas was said to be a dismal one for local merchants.
In addition, Hotel Ray with its attention to street life would enliven the area, and in Ms. Wallace’s words serve as a “beacon” and “gateway” to the street. Along with architect Michael Sant’s soon-to-be-open true mixed use commercial/residential building, Patrick Tooley’s breaking-ground commercial/residential building, and Frank Murphy’s in-the-approval-process commercial/residential building, could combat the influx of live-work spaces on the street. A high-percentage of those live-work units have been designed to create private space rather than public space on the through fare, diminishing Venice’s-community feel. Live-work spaces popularity exploded because parking requirements in the area are incredibly demanding and costly.
Once built, Ms. Wallace will remain with the hotel rather than selling. “I’m committed to this hotel for the life span of the hotel,” she stated. Ms. Wallace will personally run the project’s small store dedicated to sustainability options.