Community to discuss future of Larchmont

| April 1, 2021 | 1 Comment

“RESTAURANT ROW” on Larchmont has another new deck for dining — in place of six metered parking spaces in front of Le Petit Greek and Village Pizzeria.

Although indoor restaurant dining, on a very reduced scale, is currently allowed, local Larchmont restaurateurs and some diners are wondering if outdoor dining-in-the-street should stay a focus on the Boulevard. At press time, there were five reasonably expansive outdoor table installations replacing former metered parking spaces in the block of Larchmont between First Street and Beverly Boulevard. Several of these include wooden decking, railings, and other improvements.

One new wood deck, finished just a week ago, is in the middle of Larchmont’s veritable “Restaurant Row” that includes — between 121 and 139-1/2 N. Larchmont: Kreation Organic Juicery, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Muraya Sushi, Le Petit Greek, Village Pizzeria, Sweetfin Poke and Uncool Burgers.

Further up the block, Chef Steve Vernetti reports that customers of his eponymous restaurant at 225 N. Larchmont Blvd. are happy with the enlarged outdoor area, spanning both sides of the sidewalk and including the restaurant’s own wood deck.

“The outside street dining is a wonderful experience for our diners, and it provides a safe environment for our staff. It’s miraculous and a life saver for our business and essential to our continued success. Our diners and staff hope every day that the city makes it a permanent fixture on Larchmont Blvd. I believe it’s an important aspect for Larchmont to retain that village feel that drives so many Angelenos to our beautiful street,” says Vernetti.

Whether parking spaces might be permanently replaced with outdoor restaurant dining, as well as the seemingly eternal question of should there be limitations on the number of restaurants in this long block of Larchmont, are topical questions, says John Winther, president of the Larchmont Boulevard Association (LBA) that represents merchants from First Street to Melrose.

Looking forward

Winther told the Chronicle: “The year 2021 marks the 100th year since the Larchmont Boulevard shopping district came into existence. The LBA and others plan to celebrate that in the fall. But, in addition to looking back, we believe now is the time to look forward. At our March LBA board meeting, we concluded that this would be a good time to generate discussion about possible improvements to the Boulevard, especially given the number of store vacancies, which seem to have been growing for longer than just the past year.”

“LOWER LARCHMONT” is shown with street tree locations noted by numbers.

Patty Lombard

Winther explained that he appointed LBA board member (and author of the book “Larchmont” — available at Chevalier’s) Patty Lombard to represent the LBA in a community discussion of Larchmont issues. Winther also has reached out to the three largest neighborhood associations surrounding the Boulevard (Windsor Square, Larchmont Village, Hancock Park) and to the landlords’ association, the Larchmont Village Business Improvement District (LVBID), asking each of them to appoint someone to participate in these discussions with Lombard, the Council District 4 staff, and local planners and other interested parties.

Commenting on the task before her and the community, Lombard said: “As a resident and observer of Larchmont life, I appreciate the opportunity to serve the LBA in this important community conversation. I hope it will be a robust community discussion with many interested parties, and look forward to creating new local history as we celebrate Larchmont’s centennial and plan for our future.”

Added Winther: “There are many issues confronting the Boulevard, not just whether in-street restaurant seating should continue to replace street parking.” He mentioned possible revision of the 30-year-old “Q Conditions” that limit the types of retail activity on Larchmont, as well as the future of the street trees and watering them, plus whether there can be, or should be, additional landscaping and seating, especially in “Lower Larchmont” (the portion between First St. and Beverly Blvd.). Winther said other issues warranting community discussion would include better integrating into the Larchmont community the businesses north and south of Beverly and nearby, plus maintaining cleanliness and security for the merchants and their customers.

Windsor Square

Among the first local organizations to respond to Winther’s invitation was the Windsor Square Association (WSA). The association’s boundaries wrap Lower Larchmont on three sides, and the matter of Larchmont’s future was a subject of discussion at the WSA board’s February and March board meetings. The board decided to place a detailed advertisement, giving background on the technical details of the existing “Q Condition” rules and providing readers an opportunity to question themselves about their own thoughts on the existing regulations. The text is somewhat legalistic because the subject matter is a city ordinance and the background information and questions were drafted by a lawyer (WSA president Larry Guzin). The “Q Conditions” law can be read here: tinyurl.com/4fpamyff .

In addition to drafting this public service ad, Guzin appointed WSA’s newest board member, Gary Gilbert, as the association’s representative to the new committee initiated by the LBA.

Gary Gilbert

Longtime Windsor Square resident Gary Gilbert explained that he has been thinking about the future of Larchmont for much of the past year and has been discussing the matter with his friends and neighbors and, “most recently, with CD4 Councilmember Nithya Raman, an urban planner herself, who enthusiastically supported the idea of the entire community working together, and who already has identified members of her staff to assist the project,” he notes.

Gilbert has a number of suggested approaches for the community review of the Larchmont zoning issues, a history of which was recounted by the Los Angeles Dept. of City Planning in 2015 and is available here:

tinyurl.com/3d4bpvm7 .

Gilbert has explained that he believes the initial approach to these issues should be casual, with outreach to stakeholders that is “more thought-provoking, more accessible.” He says that the committee may determine that formal polls or surveys, perhaps professionally drafted, might be useful at a later date. But for now, these are some of the questions he believes that neighbors should consider:

I’m sure you’ve noticed that many restaurants have added outdoor dining spaces on the street. Do you think that once we are back to normal, these outdoor areas should remain?

Do you think it’s worth giving up parking spaces to allow these spaces to stay?”

Gilbert also recommends that people consider their answers to more open-ended questions, such as:

In order to maintain a balance of merchants on a street to serve the community, the current restrictions on the boulevard limit the number of dine-in restaurants. How would you feel about adjusting the restrictions to add a few more? How would you feel about removing all restrictions and allowing as many restaurants as the landlords wish?”

The current restrictions prevent [some] restaurants from serving alcohol. How would you feel about lifting those restrictions?

Gilbert advocates highlighting a few topics of importance to get the conversations going throughout the community, mentioning the Nextdoor application as another way to gather residents’ views.

Other questions that Gilbert thinks should be reviewed are:

What kinds of stores do you wish were on Larchmont Blvd. that aren’t there that you would frequent?

What stores that used to be there do you miss most?

He mentions even more specific, thought-provoking questions that people should consider, such as:

If you can order a book from Amazon and have it delivered for $17.50, would you pay $20.00 for the same book from Chevalier’s in order to have a locally-owned bookstore remain on the Boulevard?

Gilbert says he believes that “the entire community needs to begin addressing questions like this one because the reality is that it’s going to take a real effort from all of us to make a commitment to our merchants if we want to try to ensure the Boulevard’s success.”

As part of the review getting underway, Gilbert also recommends other open-ended queries such as:

How do you think we can bring back the Larchmont we all love so much?

Do you think we as local residents should have any say in who a landlord rents his property to?

The LBA’s president, John Winther, says these are just the types of thought-provoking questions that the committee of stakeholders should consider, stating that he agrees with Gilbert’s saying that what will be involved will be “at least a few months of meetings — conversations with landlords, with city planning, with folks … who know the Q Conditions well, maybe interviews with other neighborhood reps who have gone through this, as well as the ongoing conversations and updates with the CD4 team.”

Next steps

Patty Lombard says that feedback that she already is hearing from Gilbert, on behalf of the WSA, as well as local architect and planner, John Kaliski, FAIA, who she has asked to participate on the committee, makes her optimistic that this all-hands review (the first since the “Q Conditions” were debated and adopted 30 years ago) can lead to improvements for the Boulevard that will set it on its way for a successful second hundred years.

Anyone with suggestions to offer about Larchmont may reach out to Lombard at: patty@larchmontbuzz.com .

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  1. C. Pierson says:

    I love having the outdoor dining. I think it will ultimately bring the Larchmont community together, especially for those of us who are lucky enough to live in the neighborhood.

    The two businesses I most wish were on Larchmont: A small hardware store and a small food market!

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