Byline: Ambrosia Brody
MARINA DEL REY — The Los Angeles Regional Planning Commission has approved a controversial dry stack boat storage project that drew wide-ranging comments from the public about how the facility might affect boats’ maneuverability and cause increased vessel traffic in the harbor.
Residents, boaters and other marina stakeholders voiced both opposition and support for the project during the lengthy comment period at the April 24 meeting. The focal points of concern were parking, the size of the facility and increased boat traffic. Potential negative effects on the harbor and nearby businesses were also questioned.
The commission voted unanimously to grant the conditional use permit, coastal development permit and parking permit and variance.
Greg Schem, operator of The Boat Yard, explained to commissioners that his business would be affected by the proposed Boat Central design, in that it would tower more than 90 feet above the water adjacent to his slips, making leasing those slips more difficult.
He also mentioned that the development, coupled with the redevelopment of Parcel 77, will increase the traffic in Basin H. Nancy Vernon Marino of We ARE Marina del Rey spoke to concerns of boat traffic and the facility’s impact on wind change and speed in the marina.
“Sailors know small changes in the wind are critical, because you could hit the docks or you could hit other boats,” Marino said. “There are going to be 11 speedboats an hour coming out of Boat Central on a busy day, and there’ s not going to be enough space to get by.”
The parking ratio of one parking spot for each three slips was also a concern of speakers and commissioners.
“It displaces a vital visitor-serving parking lot that is free and used by UCLA Aquatic Center, sportfishing boats, harbor cruise vessels and public parking for the bike path,” Schem said. “It makes little sense to displace tens of thousands of people for the benefit of the owners of 345 boats.”
Visitors to the marina and harbor cruise guests will be required to park at paid lots instead of having free parking. Commissioner Harold Hensley questioned, if “we are pricing the lower economic group out of this recreational use.”
Michal Tripp, with the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, responded that the county was not pricing lower-income boaters out of the marina. The county intends to install Pay and Display machines, to allow visitors to buy an hour of parking time instead of a full day, he said.
“I don’t want to get into a situation where we have people come down there, and they can’t find a place to park,” said Commissioner Curt Pedersen.
The 40,000-square-foot Boat Central building would be located adjacent to the public launch ramp and would have the capability to hold 345 powerboats from 20 to 35 feet in length. At 135 feet wide and 354 feet long, the building would hang out over the water’s edge at about 100 feet.
Roger Van Wert, president of Van Wert Inc., who represents MDR Boat Central LP, told commissioners the project supports recreational boating, public access to the shoreline, preservation of the harbor and views of the harbor.
The California Coastal Commission voted 11-1 to allow for an 80-foot-high Boat Central project in the marina last year, after learning of vacancies in the harbor for smaller slips and long wait lists for larger slips.
The facility is anticipated to provide storage for those smaller vessels that will be displaced by redevelopment of the waterside portion of the marina. The county’s approved Marina del Rey development plan would result in the loss of approximately 693 slips in the 30-foot and smaller range. The loss is spread out over seven anchorages in the marina.
Those in favor of the project spoke about its positive aspects of eliminating of high maintenance costs (compared to keeping boats in the water) and providing easy access to boats.
“We see this project as an integral part of maintaining a variety of storage options for boaters, specifically small boaters,” said Gary Jones, deputy director of asset management with the Los Angeles County Planning Bureau.
“The innovative design and number of small storage spaces it would be able to provide are an enhancement to this area of the marina.”
Boater Joe Blusher said he supported the dry stack storage plan because it means less maintenance for boat owners.
“This is a way to keep people in the water, on the water, spending money in the coastal areas and hopefully drawing more people in by answering the question, ‘what do I do when I’m not on it (the boat)?’”
The applicant proposes using mesh and white polycarbonate on the building’s exterior to create a translucent effect. Boats would be kept on a rack system inside the facility and be removed by a gantry crane attached to the top of the building, and would be loaded onto a hydraulic lift at the water’s edge.
Each boat would then be lowered into the water for its owner’s use. Vessel owners would be able to call ahead to have their boat launched for a day of boating.
The commission approved the permits, with a condition that the parking spaces be mandatory for boaters using the facility and valet parking be available on heavy boating weekends.