Overturning a zoning administrator’s density cap of 67 rooms, the Harbor Area Planning Commission on Tuesday, Aug. 6, unanimously approved a developer’s request for an 80-room boutique hotel on a key downtown San Pedro corner.
Some two dozen San Pedro business and community leaders spoke at the hearing, all expressing support for the higher number of rooms in what will be a seven-story building at 544 S. Pacific Ave. on the corner of Sixth Street.
The higher number of rooms does not change the footprint of the building, which will be constructed on an L-shaped vacant parcel next to the historic Warner Grand Theatre.
“It’s the same ‘box,’ the only difference is there will be 13 additional (inside) doors,” said Youssef Merhi of the development team.
The hotel, which will feature both rooftop and ground floor restaurants, was hailed as a critical component in the push to drive more tourism and provide more support for local businesses.
“Downtown is in the middle of a renaissance,” said Lorena Parker, executive director of the Property Owners Business Improvement District. And with the Port of Los Angeles’ cruise business expanding, a hotel is needed, she said.
“We don’t want these people to go to hotels in Long Beach,” Parker said.
San Pedro documentary filmmaker Jack Baric agreed, saying efforts to attract new tech businesses to town rely on more guest rooms.
The hotel also is envisioned as a boost to the theater which is being readied to attract higher-profile programming.
“This project is the perfect project to go next door to the theater,” said Liz Schindler Johnson of the Grand Vision Foundation.
The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and two neighborhood councils were among supporting groups. Chamber President and CEO Elise Swanson called the hotel a cornerstone development that will boost the downtown area.
Developers argued that they needed the full 80 rooms to make the project work, something that Councilman Joe Buscaino’s office backed as the town and waterfront remain still on the cusp of revedelopment.
But Los Angeles Associate Zoning Administrator Theodor Irving said the project, under the area’s community plan, was legally capped at 67 rooms.
It was up to the local planning panel, however, to make the final call and all four commissioners present, with one absent, sided with the 80-room plan.
“When I look at how the project will leverage the community plan in other ways, it stands up,” said Commissioner Amber Sheikh Ginsberg. “The community plan should be used as a guiding document not as a binding document. So I’d agree that all arrows point to ‘yes.’”
Commissioner Mona Sutton said the hotel met virtually all of the other goals listed in the community plan.
Commissioners Sutton and Mitch Harmatz requested developers to pay close attention to environmental sustainability regulations, using mature landscaping and adding more art deco elements to blend with the 1930s theater next door.
The 56 underground parking spaces being provided — along with five bicycle spaces — drew some questions, but developers said it would be sufficient since most of those using the hotel would not arrive with personal cars.
Scott Greenspan, vice president of A.J. Khair Development and Construction which purchased the property in 2018, said after the meeting that the building design should be ready to be handed off to the city in three or four months.
Construction could begin in late 2020, he said, but added that the timeline will depend primarily on the city process.