After a contentious, five-hour Wednesday evening hearing, developer Richard Weintraub won the right to demolish the historic Sportsmen’s Lodge event center in Studio City and replace it with a 97,800-square-foot, mixed-use development.
The $60 million project, called Sportsmen’s Landing, will feature five restaurants, 20 shops and a 40,000-square-foot Equinox fitness center. It would be the second step in the revitalization of the Sportmen’s Lodge property by the Malibu developer, who last year completed an $8 million renovation of the lodge’s hotel.
The five-member South Valley Area Planning Commission, which met at the Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center in Van Nuys, voted to reject nine appeals of the project, which was first approved last December. The appeals came mostly by local homeowners concerned about increased noise and traffic. The commission’s vote cannot be appealed, but opponents can challenge the project’s environmental review or file a lawsuit to try and stop it.
The project had won the support of the local neighborhood council, residents’ associations and business community. It also got an endorsement from area City Councilman Paul Krekorian, whose director of planning and land use, Karo Torossian, spoke in favor of the project on Wednesday.
Opponents of the project were discouraged by the commission’s unanimous vote.
Patrice Berlin, who lives immediately across the Los Angeles River from the property, said that because the project did not require major zoning changes, it went through the approval process as a simple building height adjustment, which meant many neighbors were not aware of the development’s scope until recent weeks.
“It’s pretty discouraging when we’ve lived here all these years that they didn’t want us to know anything about this 97,000 square feet of stores. But the neighborhood council pushed this through as fast as they could so it wouldn’t build opposition,” she charged.
But the project may not be a done deal. Additional opposition could come from the Ventura Boulevard Association LLC, a North Hollywood holding company that represents the New York City family that has owned the 39,000-square-foot Sportsmen’s Lodge Hotel since 1961.
On Thursday, their attorney, Benjamin M. Reznik, of Century City law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell, told the San Fernando Valley Business Journal that the family will continue trying to stop the project – despite having close business dealings with Weintraub.
Weintraub purchased the four acres surrounding the hotel, including the events center, in 2007 for $29 million, according to real estate data firm CoStar Group Inc. He also has a long-term ground lease for the hotel, which he obtained in 2008 and allows him to operate it through 2062, Reznik said.
Reznik appeared at Wednesday’s hearing to express concern that the 440 parking spaces planned for the new retail center are inadequate and will result in shoppers and restaurant patrons parking in hotel spaces. He also disclosed that he represents the landowners in an L.A. Superior Court lawsuit they have filed against Weintraub alleging that the developer did not obtain the necessary permits and approvals for the year-long hotel remodel last year.
The suit seeks termination of Weintraub’s long-term ground lease, Reznik said.
However, Weintraub’s attorney, Fred Gaines of Gaines & Stacey LLP of Encino, told the planning commission that the events center – which has hosted countless bar mitzvahs and wedding receptions over half a century – was not a viable business despite a minor remodel about eight years ago.
“Despite (Weintraub’s) efforts with the remodel, it just has not been successful enough to continue the operations there,” Gaines told the Business Journal on Thursday. “He is very pleased with the outcome of the planning commission vote and thinks this is going to be a tremendous asset for Studio City and the San Fernando Valley – a really spectacular upgrade for the facility.”
Weintraub hopes to begin work on the project by the end of this year. The retail space will be marketed to tenants in the casual dining space as well as to upscale national restaurant chains and boutique shops specializing in fashion and home goods, he said.