Spotlight on Brentwood: Success of Tony Retail Strip Has Residents Seeking Limit

Staff Reporter

For the Brentwood neighbors of the retail stretch along San Vicente Boulevard, a little success has proven too much of a good thing.

Tucked in a high-income residential area north of Wilshire Boulevard, the five-block portion of San Vicente near the intersection with Barrington Avenue has become one of the most attractive markets for retailers in Los Angeles, driven largely by the restaurant trade.

"Along the San Vicente corridor, you never see the 'for lease' sign go up," said Jay Handel, owner of San Gennaro Caf & #233; at 140 Barrington Place and president of the West L.A. Chamber of Commerce. As soon as a property becomes available, there's a tenant ready to step in.

That in a market where asking rents are competitive with the highest in the region.

Average retail rates are in the $4 to $5.25 per foot per month range, comparable to the $4 to $6 per square foot on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills off Rodeo Drive. The 3rd Street Promenade leases for $6 to $8 per square foot, largely because of the greater amount of foot traffic.

Now, TriCal Construction Inc., developer of the area's recently completed Casa Bella residential and retail development, is asking $5.25 per-square-foot rent for the 5,100 square feet of retail space and $1,400 to $2,350 for one- and two-bedroom apartments.

While Casa Bella is one of the developments supported by neighborhood groups, there is a growing wariness that new projects might mimic the nearby Brentwood Gardens and Norton Plaza, both built in the 1980s.

"That is a fine example of what we don't want to be replicating," said Flora Gil Krisiloff, chairwoman of the Brentwood Community Council, which represents homeowners, businesses and non-profit landlords in Brentwood. "The scale of it dwarfs the pedestrian in many ways."

The 91,000-square-foot, three story mixed office and retail Norton Plaza was built in 1989, while the 70,000-square-foot Brentwood Gardens, built in 1987, is all retail.

The latest challenge for the area is a 54,000-square-foot development proposed by Bryan Gordon, chief executive of Pacific Equity Properties Inc.

The proposed development would have stores at ground level, restaurants on the second floor and offices on the third. To accommodate the project, Gordon has requested that the city close off a strip of Gorham Place, which connects Barrington to San Vicente at the northwest corner of the intersection.

A few months ago, the Brentwood Community Council passed a motion opposing the project, saying that the community wasn't getting enough back from the developer.

Gordon says that in the next three to six months he plans to apply for entitlements, something he must do before submitting the plan for public review. City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, in whose district the development would occur, will not get behind the project until the community shows more support, said Kristen Montet, chief planning deputy for Councilwoman Miscikowski.

"The community council would like to see the developer take more time and have some real discussions about what would work there," Krisiloff said. Key among the worries is the addition of 275 underground parking spaces, which Krisiloff says would bring more traffic to an already-congested area.

But Gordon said his proposal would alleviate traffic congestion because it creates safer and simpler intersections. "The city actually approached me to help them implement this plan," said Gordon, who bought the site's land between 1991 and 1994.

Unlike many retail sections of L.A., San Vicente Boulevard has retained somewhat of a neighborhood village look, with a wide, grassy median that softens the surrounding retail.

When David Toomey, a principal at real estate advisory firm CRESA Partners, steps outside his office along a bustling San Vicente sidewalk, he sees crowded tables at the nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

"That's what it's all about here," said Toomey. "We like the outdoor seating area and the natural light. It's a people-watching spot."

For Handel, who has lived near San Vicente for 27 years, the retail competition has been welcome. "It was mostly community people in the past 20 years," he said. "Today you're bringing in the 30s and 40s crowd and people with families who like to shop in the area. It's kept the community feel, but the stores have upgraded to higher quality, better dining and better selection."

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