By Greta Cobar
The owner of Gjelina is pushing against the wishes of the Venice community to open a restaurant/bar/take-out food and alcohol establishment at 320 Sunset.
The first thing that got the community rallied against this proposed development was Fran Camaj’s (Gjelina’s owner) misrepresentation of the project. At the March 5 Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) meeting, the development was presented as a “bakery with accessory retail,” failing to mention its proposed off-site beer and wine sales.
Jim Murez’s staff report for LUPC also failed to mention the proposed off-site beer and wine sales. Such a mention did miraculously appear in the City Planning notice, however. Murez stated that it was not in the original application, and it must have appeared later. Subsequently Murez was accused of “either gross incompetence or deliberate obfuscation,” and LUPC was accused of lacking integrity, honesty, truth and transparency.
Just around the corner from the Google Binocular building on Main and also from its proposed expansion at 320 Hampton, it is no secret that Camaj is tying to capitalize on being close to Google. Venetians worry that if allowed, others will follow. Nobody wants to see Sunset becoming anything like Abbot Kinney.
As a matter of fact, that very block of Sunset, between 3rd and 4th, is where some of the best loved artists in Venice have their studios. It is also the heart of the Art Walk, which raises tens of thousands of dollars yearly for the Venice Family Clinic, and the Art Block, when those of us who cannot afford the Art Walk get to go and see the amazing work created on that very block and its immediate surroundings. Next Art Block is May 4!
Undoubtedly the proposed new development is out of character with the neighborhood, and most of us agree that we do not need another place to buy alcohol in Venice – we already got plenty. The artists in that area and the art lovers who visit would most likely not be able to afford a Gjelina-type bill anyways.
The restaurant would have a capacity of 110 customers and employees, without providing any parking for either its clientele or staff. Furthermore, its patio dining will be located just ten feet away from residential homes. It is scheduled to stay open 19 hours/day, from 6 am to 1 am. “He (Camaj) exploits the neighborhood for his own financial gains, and has no regard or concern for how to be a good neighbor,” a resident in the area said.
Currently there are no other restaurants, bars or shops on that block. The proposed development would require a change of use for the dwelling, which is currently zoned M1 for manufacturing. The applicant is requesting a zone change to commercial. However, Venice has very little M1 zoning, and if this area is changed to commercial, it will set a precedent for others to follow, eliminating what little M1 zoning remains for artists.
The April 2 LUPC meeting was changed into a “special” meeting so that the agenda could be posted 24 hours before the meeting instead of the mandated 72 hours. When 320 Sunset appeared on the agenda, with such a short notice and not enough time for the public to prepare, Venetians took action. The meeting was eventually canceled and re-scheduled for April 16 at 6:45, Oakwood Rec. The Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character is also holding a public meeting on April 12, at 4:30, First Baptist Church. Attend and speak up!
Above: Current dwellings at 320 Sunset