Posted Thursday, June 7, 2018 – 6:35 PM
By Victoria Talbot
By Victoria Talbot With lightning speed, residents have galvanized to oppose a proposed 99-room hotel and residential development in the heart of Benedict Canyon. In only 48 hours, say residents, they have generated over 400 emails to the office of Los Angeles City Council member Paul Koretz to ask for his help and support to oppose the project.
Nearby residents have quickly banded together to organize Save Our Canyon (SaveOurCanyon.LA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit to fight the development. In about six weeks, said Mark Levin, president of Save Our Canyon, they have registered upward of 700 members.
“The scale of this proposal has struck a chord with the entire community,” he said, pointing out that he has been on a “crash course” in land-use issues along with his neighbors, liaising with organizations such as the Hillside Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to garner support.
“This is about much more than Benedict Canyon,” he said. Such approvals would set a precedent he likened to dominos falling. “Every open space in the Santa Monica Mountains will be looked at by developers.”
The organization has officers and a 15-member Board of Directors. “We have money to pay for lawyers and we are asking our community to stand “Over 400 Emails In 48 Hours” Say Residents up with contributions for a war chest for the long haul.”
He cited the “corrosive effect” the project would have on the ecosystem. He said that wildlife experts are joining their cause and they plan to document wildlife corridors.
For Levin, the protection of the canyons is a multi-generational responsibility to steward the land, a “generational relay race with the baton passed from one generation to the next… to leave the hills as good as you found them.”
The organization has reached out to people from Pacific Palisades to Bronson Canyon. “We are one voice, one mind,” he said, “looking forward to a giant umbrella,” to protect the Santa Monica Mountains.
For his part, Councilmember Koretz said, “The applicants recently submitted their plan application just as anyone else can and it is now sitting in the hands of the Planning Department for our initial review. Our office has not had the chance to review the plans yet. We are also reviewing the input we have received from the community members and taking all comments into consideration.”
The proposed development by Gary Safady was scheduled to be presented on Tuesday at the Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council (BABCNC) Land Use Committee meeting but Safady asked to reschedule.
“The Neighborhood Council presentation was postponed because we’re still working on project details with City Planning. We wanted to wait until we could provide accurate information,’ said Safady. “Once this accurate information is available, we look forward to meeting with all interested neighbors and groups so everyone has an opportunity to review the plan.”
Safady says his project is designed so that it will not be visible from Benedict Canyon. He claims it will be sustainable and environmentally sensitive to the natural landforms. “Any emails sent in opposition are really premature and are the result of misleading information distributed by some opponents,” said Safady.
The 33-acre development is located at the nexus of Hutton Drive, Wanda Park Drive and Oak Pass Road on the east side of the canyon, where the land remains mostly undeveloped. Covered in grasses, mesquite and oaks, it is home to coyotes, owls, opossums and many other forms of wildlife.
The project, said Levin, is “782,000 sq. ft. of floor space in the middle of our quiet neighborhood.”
Zoned primarily for residential, Safady is seeking a Specific Plan for the project that would rezone the property from the current General Plan.
In their literature, Save Our Canyon residents say that the 99-room hotel will be seven stories, or 80 feet, in height. There will be nine private residences, parking for more than 700 vehicles, a total of 35 structures with a mile of cement retaining walls and several two-lane roads off Hutton Drive, just east of Benedict Canyon. They say there will be 3,000 hauling trips through sub-standard streets and that the hotel is slated to hold events such as weddings, showers and fundraisers. Safady said he did not have sufficient time to prepare a response on short notice.
Benedict Canyon is already choked with traffic during peak hours and neighbors are concerned.
“The hotel would fundamentally change the nature of Benedict Canyon, clogging our narrow streets with traffic, filling our hills with constant noise, all the while creating precedent for other destructive commercial projects throughout all the canyons,” reads a flyer distributed at their meeting at Bel Air Presbyterian last week.
“Many neighbors closest to the property have actually been supportive and we think more people will join them once they understand the proposal,” said Safady. He claims to have “at least 200 supporters” for the project and said that he believes the emails sent to Koretz include duplicates from the same person to inflate the numbers. He said he gained two supporters on Oak Pass Road just by talking to them to dispel “misinformation.