Unofficial report about the September 12, 2013 hearing for a zoning change before the South Valley Planning Commission.

About forty neighbors that live near 20840 Sherman Way (SE corner of Sherman Way and Mason) showed up for the hearing, as well as the Applicant for the zoning change, name the developers and their attorney, Mr. Kaplan. At first, Mr. Kaplan proposed a continuance for 2 weeks to the Commissioners, saying that he had mentioned this at the WNC meeting 2 days prior. WNC Board members are not sure that this was communicated. As there was present such a large number of concerned stakeholders, the Commissioners granted them a 5-minute recess in which to step out in the hall, and take a vote on whether to have the hearing now, or in 2 weeks. The stakeholders voted to have the hearing today (9/12/13), to move forward, as many had taken time off of work to attend and might not be able to do so in two more weeks.

So the hearing proceeded, meaning that the Commissioners would hear both sides, giving them 10 minutes each, then give any who had filled out speaker cards 2 minutes each; then rebuttals by each side; then a statement from Cesar Diaz, representing our new Councilman, Bob Blumenfield.

First, Attorney Kaplan spoke for the Applicant (the developer) and presented their project, changed even from the WNC meeting two days prior: it remained 2 levels of parking and 3 stories of apartments, with 69 parking spaces, but had reduced from 39 apartment units to 32 apartment units.

Speaking for the stakeholders was Ben Stormer who presented the concerns of the neighboring stakeholders: density, height, crime, traffic problems, parking problems, not consistent with the neighborhood, etc.

Then the moderating Commissioner, Gordon Murley, called names of those who had filled out speaker cards, and each person was given 2 minutes. About 30 people spoke, WNC Board Member Bettie Ross spoke about there not being any curb cut-outs for cars queuing up to enter the building, and how that was probably impossible on the Sherman Way side due to the bus stop. She also reminded the Commissioners that this was merely a gas station lot; and quoted from the Winnetka Chamber of Commerce booklet about the history of Winnetka, how Sherman Way was once the “most beautiful boulevard in the world”, and that this should be preserved.

During the time when people were speaking, the moderator said that they were well aware of what we do NOT want, but what is it that the stakeholders DO want; to please let them know. It became evident that what is wanted is for the lot to remain two-story commercial, or be changed to a two-story apartment, not a three-story building.

There were short closing statements/rebuttals by both Attorney Kaplan and by Ben Stormer. Then Cesar Diaz of Bob Blumenfield’s office spoke, saying that as the project is currently designed, Councilman Blumenfield does not support the project as it is inconsistent with the neighborhood, among other reasons.

The Commissioners then closed the hearing for any testimony, and proceeded to openly discuss the matter between themselves, and with their three staff assistants. As there were only three Commissioners (one is on a leave of absence, one is recused from this matter), any decision would have to be unanimous. And unanimously they voted to not change the zoning so as to permit the apartment building.

The lot is currently zoned for two-story commercial use, same as the other 3 corners of Sherman Way and Mason. The Applicant can appeal the case, and it would appeal to the L.A. City Council, not to the Planning Commission.