A proposed retail and restaurant development smack in the middle of the Brentwood shopping district is turning into an escalating land-use controversy that pits neighborhood retailers against a local developer.
If the project goes forward, Gorham Avenue, a valued commuter shortcut to the community's major thoroughfares, would be eliminated as would a popular patio area for several eateries.
"If the street is closed, we feel that the developer is not bringing in improvements that are commensurate with what he is receiving," said Evelyn Stern, president of the 3,000-household Brentwood Homeowners Association.
The road closure wasn't really the developer's idea.
Bryan Gordon, chief executive of Century City-based Pacific Equities Group, purchased the roughly 30,000-square-foot property near the intersection of San Vicente Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in segments from 1991 to 1993, with the knowledge that the intersection was one of many capital improvement projects tagged by the city more than 10 years ago.
But plans to widen the streets to ease traffic at the crowded intersection and to close off Gorham have sat on the back burner, according to City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, whose district includes Brentwood.
Then Gordon came along with his proposed 40,000-square-foot retail and restaurant complex, and the city saw a source of funding for its road improvements.
Under the proposal, Pacific Equities would get permission to develop its project in exchange for an agreement to fund the road improvements. That might include widening the northbound and southbound sides of Barrington, which would eat into the intersection, leaving only about three feet of outdoor dining space.
"Our patio has become a neighborhood amenity for the past five years. It would have a negative impact on our business. Our patio would turn into a major thoroughfare," said Nathan Pratt, director of operations for the Camarillo-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.
"The development will cut into the focal point of the area. This is one of the only places you can walk into and make meaningful acquaintances," said Mel Marshall, a 30-year Brentwood resident who visits the caf & #233; nearly six times a week.
His friend, Ron Seigel, echoes his sentiments. "I really question if Brentwood residents are looking for more retail stores. There's Century City, Beverly Center, Santa Monica how much more do they need?" said Seigel, a former commercial real estate broker. "If we get more, our small-town village will become one shopping mall."
Some residents also argue that the 40-foot wide, 150-foot long stretch of Gorham, which cuts through Montana Avenue and San Vicente, is an important shortcut to Barrington.
A traffic study is underway as part of the project's environmental impact report. During a 30-day public comment period for the pre-draft EIR, the city Planning Department received about 250 letters regarding the project, compared to a usual 10 to 20 for such ventures.
Gordon says he is ready to listen to the concerns of residents.
"I'm a Brentwood resident and do not want to see the atmosphere change," he said. "I want to work with the community and reach a consensus to make this project happen."
Miscikowski has not yet taken a position, although she does favor the road improvements. "We need to roll up our sleeves to find some consensus. A well-done, very pedestrian-oriented shopping environment could add to the Brentwood atmosphere," she said.
Gordon is seeking to create a village-like atmosphere at his planned center. Architect Michael Kovac said the complex, which opens up to San Vicente Boulevard in a "U" shape, would have three connected buildings. An entrance to the subterranean, 275-space parking garage will be on the western side of San Vicente.
Not all Brentwood residents oppose the project.
"Initially, our group is for the project with the conditions. Another large retail center is not what Brentwood needs, but he owns the property and we need to be on our toes and work with him," said Jackie Raymond, president of the 1,000-member South Brentwood Homeowners Association.
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