Category Archives: Venice Beach Real Estate

Historic “Biltmore by the Sea” Hotel a Plus for Venice

6:12am

By Mark Ryavec

What does the name “Biltmore by the Sea” conjure up in your mind? A hotel, right? All the Biltmores I’ve seen are hotels.

This reality was lost on a majority of the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC). By a 10-6 vote the Council recently opposed the continued hotel use of Venice Suites, which was constructed on the Boardwalk in 1922 as the “Biltmore by the Sea.”

This vote came in a misguided effort to force the owner to operate Venice Suites as an apartment building with affordable rents, which neither the VNC nor the City has any ability to enforce in this case. The VNC also ignored the 76 Venetians who turned out to speak in favor of the hotel use, which was three times as many as those who spoke in opposition.

I suppose we could credit the VNC’s confusion because the original City of Venice zoning code did not differentiate between hotels and apartments, and the Venice municipal code taxed them identically. State law at the time defined the Biltmore as a “lodging house,” i.e., “a hotel that does not serve food,” with no minimum length of stay.

When Venice residents voted in 1925 to be annexed to the City of Los Angeles its zoning code was carried over…and the hotel use continued for decades. More recent City records (including a building permit from 1952 shown here) also show the building as a hotel.

The application before the VNC was for

“Transient Occupancy Use,” which would continue Venice Suites’ historic use, allowing stays of one night, one week, one month or more. The building would remain under Los Angeles’ rent control law for any stays of more than a month, so anyone renting long-term would enjoy the City limit on rent increases and the bar on arbitrary eviction.

Inevitably, Venice Suites/Biltmore by the Sea lies at the knotty intersection between visitor demand for short term rentals (STRs) and Venice’s lack of hotels to address that demand. This demand for STRs is a historical fact. Long before anyone dreamed of Disneyland or Las Vegas, Venice was the West Coast’s convention destination, amuse- ment park and tourist resort. Indeed, Harrah’s Hotel was born at Venice Beach before relocating to Reno, Nevada. In the early part of the 20th century most of the residential units in Venice were built for vacationers and short-term occupancy because there were few jobs to support a large full- time, resident population. Biltmore by the Sea, now Venice Suites, was one of these buildings.

Our lack of visitor serving rooms can easily be seen in comparison with our neighbor to the north. While Santa Monica has over 3,800 hotel rooms and 8 million visitors per year in a city of about 93,000 residents, our town has only 450 hotel rooms and 16 million visitors per year with a population of about 40,000. By Santa Monica’s standard, we should have at least 1,900 hotel rooms. This scarcity of hotel rooms in Venice drives the strong demand for AirBnB uses in apartments and residences, which some residents find objectionable. With 32 rooms, Venice Suites relieves a portion of that demand.

A majority of the VNC mistakenly concluded that by opposing the continued hotel use that Venice Suites would be required to lower rents to an affordable level for long-term renters. They ignored the City Housing Department’s earlier determination under the Mello Act that there were no affordable units in the building and there had not been any for several years, so the City has no legal authority to impose a rent rollback. If short stays are prohibited at Venice Suites, the rooms can legally be rented as luxury, furnished apartments with studios at $3,000 per month and one bedrooms at $6,000 per month. That would leave hundreds of visitors each month who want to stay less than 30 days in Venice chasing AirBnB rentals. The City would lose approximately $300,000 in hotel taxes each year, since stays longer the 30 days are not taxed.

This will also be in defiance of the Coastal Act’s requirement that the City provide more, not less, “visitor serving” facilities so more of the public can enjoy the beach and ocean – like we do on a daily basis.

The VNC also ignored the fact that overnight visitors have a strong, positive impact on employment. They bring with them disposable income that fuels retail and restaurant sales which in turn supports local jobs – both at Venice Suites (14 full time jobs) and in local restaurants and shops – and generates sales and transient occupancy taxes that support city services. A hotel unit also has one half the parking impact of an apartment unit, which is significant in parking-starved Venice. The increasing popularity of Uber and Lyft suggest that the parking impact of hotels will drop even more as vis- itors forgo car rentals, especially in walkable and bike-friendly areas such as Venice.

Venice Suite’s almost century-long use as a hotel, its positive impact on the local economy, and the tremendous visitor demand for hotel rooms all argue for the City to ignore the VNC’s advisory vote and approve its continued hotel use.

Mark Ryavec is president of the non-profit Venice Stakeholders Association (venicestakeholdersassociation.org). He earlier served as a Legislative Analyst for the Los Angeles City Council and its Planning and Land Use Committee.

Affordable Housing Proposal for Venice

9:11am

In a move that could create much-needed affordable housing in Venice, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin today proposed building housing on the site of a controversial Metro bus yard that closed last month.

In his capacity as a member of the Board of Directors of LA County Metro, the region’s transportation agency, Bonin succeeded in shutting the bus yard and making sure it would not to be sold to the highest bidder for use as office or commercial space.

“Neighbors in Venice have been calling for the bus yard to be closed for years, and I was proud to make that happen,” said Bonin. “Now that it is closed, we can use this site to deliver needed affordable housing through a neighborhood-serving project that will be a great fit in Venice.“

The 3.5-acre property, on Sunset Avenue near the beach, has been a bus yard since 1951, drawing regular complaints about noise and pollution. At Bonin’s urging, Metro consolidated operations and closed the yard last month. Under state law and Metro policy, the transportation agency can auction the property, sell it to a government agency for fair-market value, or develop the property through a community-driven process. Metro policy dictates that a minimum of 35% of the units on Metro property must be affordable units.

Given the zoning of the property, an auction would have almost certainly resulted in a large “by right” office or commercial project, creating significant traffic impacts, Bonin said.

“There was no way that kind of development would have been the highest and best use for the property,” Bonin said. “Venice is in real, desperate need for more affordable housing. As we talk about what we are going to do to combat homelessness and the housing crisis in LA, we need to take advantage of every opportunity to create affordable housing where we can.”

Bonin formally directed LA Metro to begin the “joint development process” at a board meeting January 28. Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl co-sponsored the motion.

Developing the property will likely take a few years. The first step will be an environmental assessment to determine what it will take to make a former bus yard suitable for residential use. An extensive community engagement process will follow, so neighbors can help shape and design the project. Metro recently mandated extensive community engagement processes for any development on its properties.

Bonin said affordable housing is essential, as the city and region grapple with skyrocketing rents and housing prices.

“Long-time residents are being forced out of neighborhoods,” he said. “Recent graduates cannot afford to live where they grew up. It is a crisis – and it is particularly acute near the coast. We need to take big actions to create affordable housing, and given the cost of land on the Westside, it is going to take government property to make it happen.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti and Kuehl recently spearheaded the Metro affordable housing policy – which requires at least 35% of housing created through Metro Joint Development efforts to be affordable for residents earning 60% or less of the Area Median Income. In Los Angeles 60% of the AMI would be about $33,000.

The lack of affordable housing in Venice has been a major concern shared by Bonin and Venice residents, and Bonin has taken a series of legislative actions to protect affordable housing in the neighborhood, including pushing for: tightened regulations preserving affordable units in the coastal zone; regulations curbing the loss of affordable rental units to short-term rentals; and state legislation closing a legal loophole that allowed a loss of affordable units under a state law designed to increase affordable units.

Abbot Kinney Real Estate Price Explosion: Former Hal’s Property Sold For $44.75 Million

Everyone loved Hal’s Bar and Grill, but did anyone think that someone would love the building, that had been home to Hal’s for nearly 30 years, so much that they’d pay $44,750,000 for it?

It’s no surprise that Venice property is in demand but the price tag on this latest exchange on Abbot Kinney has come as a shock to many, including local realtors.

The sale of the property was finalized just over a month ago on June 11. The $44 million price included, not only the old Hal’s restaurant space, but adjacent retail, and the old Casa Linda restaurant space on the corner of Abbot Kinney and California Ave.

At $44,750,000, the price is more than double the amount paid by the property’s previous owners, when just two years prior, on June 14, 2013, DCA Abbot Kinney LLC paid $20,000,200 for the property parcel.

This latest transaction, on the street GQ Magazine famously called “The coolest block in America,” follows the sale of the Wabi-Sabi restaurant building for $7,143,000 in March this year. At this number the price per square foot for the 1,500 square foot space comes out at $4,762. The $44 million dollar Hal’s property parcel sale equates to a whopping $5,498 per square foot.

With new owners paying high prices for real estate it’s no surprise that currently it’s cheaper to rent a store in Beverly Hills than it is on Abbot Kinney. Especially as many new landlords are passing on costs to tenants, such as property tax, in leases known as a “Triple Net,” or “Hell or High Water” lease.

On the same day the sale of the building went through Hal’s Bar & Grill co-owners Don and Linda Novack and Hal Frederick, announced signing a lease with Lincoln Property Company. A move that, by December this year should see the award-winning restaurant re-open at Runway Playa Vista.

Issuing a joint statement, the Novacks and Frederick said, “We’re taking 4,700 square feet of totally raw space and working with an architect and designer to create the same welcoming, relaxed feel as the original Hal’s on Abbot Kinney. It’ll be about the same size, maybe a touch roomier. We plan to preserve the elements people value most – Chef Manuel Mares’ beautifully prepared food, fine art, and live music–and create a vibrant new space and experience that still feels familiar and authentically Hal.”

Little is known about the new owners of the old Hal’s building except that while the LLC has a very Venice name; Speedway Group LLC, its mailing address is as New York as it gets.

It seems New Yorkers are flocking to the West Coast’s Westside, even Beyonce and Jay-Z had been seen dining at Hal’s on multiple occasions in the lead up to the restaurant closing its doors on April 26. The superstar couple were not exclusive to the old school Venice favorite, however, also spotted dinning at Gjelina. It’s been said a staff member was fired after posting pictures of the famous duo on social media.

When asked what the team at Hal’s thought to of $44 million price tag on their old building, they said, “We wish the new owners and our extended Venice community well.”

Price Check: 1346 Abbot Kinney listed at $7,350,000

1346 Abbot Kinney has been listed at $7,350,000.
1346 Abbot Kinney has been listed at $7,350,000.

Spectacular live/work building in the heart of Abbot Kinney Blvd. this unique property can be configured for many uses.

Located one block from Gjelina and next door to Tom’s, this opportunity features: A one bedroom, 1 1/2 bath loft style second floor apartment that includes an open roof deck, hot tub, chef’s kitchen, hardwood floors, and patio; a two bedroom, one bath ground floor apartment; with hardwood floors and direct access parking a 600 square foot street level studio/gallery with its own 3/4 bath.

The building was remodeled and restored in 2000 and updated in 2009 by architect Eva Sobesk , a protege of Frank Gehry.

Click here to read more about the listing.

Price Check: #4 26th Avenue

My brother’s favorite house in Venice, a Greene and Greene craftsman style home originally built in 1935 and previously the residence of songwriter Jerry Leiber, who died of cardio-pulmonary failure in August 2011, is on the market. You’re probably going to need to dip into your rainy-day fund in order to afford it because it’s listed at $10.85 million. That’s Ten Million Eight-hundred Fifty Thousand and xx/00 Dollars when you’re filling out the check. (related: does anyone still write checks?)

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