"We've received an extraordinary amount of input on this project," says Steve Cochran, president of the South Valley Area Planning Commission. "I've never seen so much email on one matter in over six years of being on the commission."
It only takes one look at the jam packed conference room of the Marvin Braude Constituent Center in Van Nuys to confirm the veracity of Cochran's claim. More than a hundred Studio City residents and concerned parties have scrambled to find chairs in the first floor meeting room to air out grievances about the upcoming Sportsmen's Landing project.
After hours of hearing testimony, the South Valley Area Planning Commission voted to push through with the project with some amendments, including parking signs that distinguish between the hotel and the mixed use site; free valet at the mixed used site; and that city planning would re-evaluate the noise levels and operational conditions within 1.5 years of the building permit being issued to determine its true effect on the city.
Located at the northeast corner of Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon in Studio City, the Sportsmen's Lodge is a horseshoe shaped property that wraps around the existing Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel, a separately owned site, and sits south of the Los Angeles River.
Now only several attached one-story buildings and a separate banquet facility exists on the site, but the developer Richard Weintraub of Malibu-based Weintraub Real Estate Group wants to demolish that and replace it with 97,807-square feet of upscale shopping with restaurants, retail, and a gym built in a mid-century modern style complementary to the neighboring hotel, which will remain intact during the development. The new project, dubbed Sportsmen's Landing, would also beautify a part of the Los Angeles River behind it, adding a pocket park that would directly connect residents to the river.
The approximately $60 million project has neighbors up in arms. They say that the neighborhood was never contacted with regards to the project, that parking needs for the new mixed-use project would overwhelm the neighborhood's capacity, and that noise would continue in their backyards. Last February, nine appeals were filed on the project: eight from residents and one from the Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel owner.
"I've seen what the Sportsmen's Lodge [banquet space] is like when someone's booked there," says longtime resident Pam Friedman. "If you live right there all the time, you'd know it's insufficient based on what I know to be so."
Attorney Ben Reznik, who represents the Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel owners (who are based in New York), agrees with Friedman. Reznik contends that the shared parking study under which the new development was approved is flawed. He says that if one follows the city regulations there needs to be 702 parking spaces instead of 446. "I call this a smoke and mirrors study," says Reznik. "I would like to see approval for this project reversed and the project started again. It is fatally flawed."
Residents say the project's outreach also seems to be lacking. "In 2014, not one person I knew knew about the project. It all smells of conspiracy," says Patrice Berlin, who has lived in Studio City for 19 years. "There was only one notice email fro the neighborhood council in May 2014."
Berlin also expressed concerns about accountability in this new development. "Who do we call when there's a problem with parking or congestion?"
Sandy Fox, on the other hand, appealed to the site's historical value. In 2002, the city denied it Los Angeles Historical Cultural Monument designation, but in 2013, it was found that it could potentially be eligible as a "rare and early private recreational facility in the San Fernando Valley" and a "important and popular gathering place for people working in the entertainment industry" according to SurveyLA. "It's the last untouched landmark in the Valley," Fox says. "That's the lounge where Bogey and Bacall relaxed."
Despite this negative reception from the neighborhood, Fred Gaines of Gaines and Stacey Law, which is working with Weintraub Real Estate Group, points out that the development has received support from the Studio City Residents Association, the Studio City Chamber of Commerce, and the Studio City Business Improvement District.
"I'm not just saying this, but I think all the people who are opposed to the project were misled or misinformed," says Lorena Parker, Executive Director of Studio City Business Improvement District. "I truly think this is going to be a great project for the community. If I had my pick of any project development in this corner, this would be something I'd pick. It's going to enhance the quality of life for everyone."
Read more about Sportmen's Landing here.