Hayden Tract Builders Win Over the Crowd and the Planning CommssionBy Ari L. Noonan @ 3:00 PM October 23, 2008
As putative pioneers of a New Generation of kinder, gentler builders who value sensitivity toward the neighborhood over more traditional (negative) traits commonly associated with some developers, partners Greg Reitz and Steve Edwards received their reward last night when they went before the Planning Commission in Council Chambers.
Standing stoutly, but not immodestly, on their most visible stage yet in their hometown, they defeated a year-long campaign to impede them by winning unanimous approval for their unique business-condos project from a shrunken Planning Commission, 3 to 0.
“This shows you the value of community outreach,” a smiling and relieved Mr. Reitz said just before midnight, encircled by his building team and by unrelated well-wishers as he tried to leave City Hall.
It was not a onesided, anti-project, evening after all.
By Mr. Reitz’s calculations, 50 percent of the crowd supported the plan, 40 percent were against and the remaining 10 percent said that while they disagreed with the present iteration, they were not against the project itself. That was the door the Planning Commission walked through. In the traveling absence of Chair David Rockwell, Vice Chair John Kuechle, leader of the evening, and members Tony Pleskow and Linda Smith Frost, each following a measure of hesitation, voted to approve. (Previously, member Marcus Tiggs had recused himself.)
There was so much most commissioners liked about the project that they sounded almost apologetic about the details to which they objected. Granting a n exception to the height code was a big but not overwhelming deal that passed fairly smoothly. At the front, the terraced building is 43 feet tall, the height zoned for the neighborhood. But it eventually swells to 60 feet, the farther back it is from the street.
Mr. Kuechle’s endorsement probably was the most fulsome. “I started off thinking it would be good for Culver City to have a first-rate project in this area,” said Mr. Kuechle, fresh from the Oilfield vs. PXP Wars, which sort of ended the day before.
Wandering Down an Unclear Path
A lengthy, foggy, arcane debate over how to manage the high-volume of traffic on Higuera Street — short of evicting families from the neighborhood — almost monopolized comments by 37 members of the public and a chorus of city officials.
Mr. Reitz had volunteered to join the Hayden Tract community in trying to strategize relief, and eventually the Planning Commission made that commitment a condition of approval. At the end of the meandering debate, Mr. Kuechle said, “This project is tough for me because I am not sure how much more mitigation we can impose (on the builders).”
It was not the builders’ fault, he said, that the Hayden Tract was burdened with a thumping amount of traffic. “If we move forward,” Mr. Kuechle said, “I don’t think the project will have a significant impact on traffic.”
By attaching traffic-oriented caveats for the builders, the commissioners did not issue a completely clean approval. Speaking for at least one of her colleagues, Ms. Smith Frost, who came closest to being reluctant, said, “I can support the project if we get some future traffic mitigation.”
Since crisscrossing suggestions and directions on shades of mitigation were made, hardly anyone in the room — least of all Mr. Reitz or the commissioners — understood what form the conditions would take.
Explaining a Triumph
There appeared to be two reasons that Mr. Reitz and Mr. Edwards somewhat surprisingly prevailed when the popular impression gong in was that a clear majority of neighbors were unalterably against doubling the size of the present building, a warehouse, at 8665 Hayden Pl.:
Their dedication to purely green buildings, and their face-to-face efforts at collaboration with nearby residents and property owners.
Since unveiling their project last year, many residents strongly objected on two familiar grounds, the building as outsized for their neighborhood and already clotted traffic would be ratcheted up to an intolerable level. Mr. Reitz and Mr. Edwards noted the muscular complaints and reacted innovatively by converting a square building into a terraced, landscape-screened project.
A crucial psychological factor that turned likely defeat into victory last night was that in laying out their project and then refining it, the partners made rivals of some neighbors but definitely not enemies. Personally, the people seemed to like them, especially the imaginative, collaborative way they worked with the cozy Hayden Tract community.
“I think everybody appreciated what we tried to do about reducing traffic impacts,” Mr. Reitz said. “But they understood that this is a pre-existing problem. Our building is not going to make it better or worse, significantly. And we were willing to work with the neighborhood and with the other businesses to try and solve the real problem, the existing amount of traffic. There was enough trust among residents that we were trying to work toward that solution that is beyond the scope of our project.”
Firming up Their Business Values
On numerous occasions after they went into business several years ago, young Mr. Edwards and young Mr. Reitz said that they would strive to be different from many high-profile figures in the building industry. Their values represented sharp change. They meant to reverse the rather gruesome image of many developers.
Generations after their professional peers came along, the partners were born and they grew up in a new-fangled era, just as sensitivity toward the environment was, for the first time in history, becoming a daily factor in the lives of ordinary persons. For them, “environment” stood exactly equal, educationally, with reading, writing and arithmetic.
Green sensibilities, they pledged, would indelibly mark everything they built. Common people in the neighborhoods they entered began to notice. There was something different about this building team.
Mr. Reitz and Mr. Edwards vowed that the other half of their foundational business ethic would be overt, direct collaboration with residents and others within the orbit of their planned project. They were not strictly independent entrepreneurs. Along with neighbors, they would form a team.
Both partners possess markedly low-key personalities. It was not in their DNA to walk into a neighborhood , as some developers reputedly have done, and swing their elbows from side to side, loudly proclaiming this was the way things were going to be.
Electric atmospheres usually are reserved for City Council meetings. A packed house, buzzing with passion — and compassion — poured into Chambers for what promised to be the second-most spectacular approval process of the year.
It was almost hot enough inside to collect an after-dark tan.
The crowd came to speak emotionally about the modified 4-/5-story split level business condo being proposed on the site of a two-story warehouse at 8665 Hayden Pl. in the industrialized Hayden Tract.
Since last November, pockets of neighbors had organized and campaigned vigorously, speaking out at public meetings against the plan by Rethink Development Corp., based in the Hayden Tract.
But at the end of the enormously ponderous four-hour and 45-minute meeting, which chugged to a stop 15 minutes before midnight, the opposing sides seemed to melt together.