Popular pastry chef Amy Brown’s plan to open a storefront in a Ventura Boulevard shopping center has touched off a battle within the center over a lack of parking, as well as the potential competition it could create with an existing pastry shop that has been at the location for seven years.
The existing pastry shop owner has filed an appeal with the South Valley Area Planning Commission over a conditional approval that was granted by the city's director of planning. That appeal will be heard Thursday.
Brown, who has been on the Los Angeles culinary scene for several years, currently operates a virtual bakery on her Brown Sugar L.A. website. She intends to open Brown Sugar Marketplace, a pastry shop and baking supply store, in an approximately 1,300-square-foot space in the center, which is located near Fulton Avenue at 13317 Ventura Boulevard.
The center has always had a shortage of parking. If Brown Sugar Marketplace moves in, the center will have 10 businesses but only 10 parking spaces, one of which is for handicapped parking and another which limits parking to five minutes for loading.
The storefront that Brown Sugar Marketplace plans to enter had been occupied for 20 years by the Texas Cleaners dry-cleaning service, whose customers usually occupied parking spaces for a short time as they dropped off and picked up items.
The zoning regulations for the area, detailed in the Sherman Oaks Specific Plan for Ventura Bouelvard, require Brown Sugar Marketplace, with its combination of a retail store and restaurant, to have seven parking spaces of its own in the center’s lot or in a lot or ramp nearby. No such spaces are available.
However, under the Specific Plan, Brown Sugar Marketplace is allowed to pay a parking deficiency fee if it is unable to meet the parking standards.
Brown Sugar Marketplace agreed to pay the fee, so the director of planning was required to approve the project.
“We are complying completely with the city and their regulations,” said Brown’s business associate Ricardo Valdez. “We’ve agreed to do everything that each other business is doing.”
Fatima Marques, the owner of Natas Pastries and a tenant of the Ventura Boulevard shopping center, has filed the appeal opposing the approval of Brown Sugar Marketplace, citing not only the parking struggles but the potential negative impact on her pastry shop.
Marques has owned and operated Natas Pastries, a Portuguese-style bakery, since 2005. She maintains that allowing a new bakery, which she sees as potential competition, to move in next to her pastry shop is “unethical.” She also said that such a business will make an already bad parking situation worse.
“There are 11 restaurants on this block,” Marques said. “It’s always packed. Putting another restaurant right there in that center is just ridiculous. It’s impossible to find parking anywhere around here.”
Landlord Michael Braum, who operates a real estate agency within the shopping center, agreed with Marques that parking has been in short supply over the years, but he said he needed to get a business into the vacant space.
“No matter whom you rent to, they’re going to bring the traffic,” Braum said. “That’s a very simple idea.”
Braum and Valdez contend that Marques’ store would see benefits from the addition of Brown Sugar Marketplace.
“These are two totally different kinds of bakeries,” Braum said. “Natas Pastries is an upgraded Portuguese bakery and Brown Sugar is American. Brown Sugar will help Natas Pastries.”
“The community will have its choice of where they want to go on what specific day,” Valdez said. “People like to try different things. If you have more than one good thing on your block, how good is that for your business?”
Ultimately, the decision is in the hands of the South Valley Area Planning Commission, which can choose to nix the project if it determines the parking situation will have too much of a negative impact on the businesses already within the shopping center.
At Thursday's meeting, the Planning Commission will hear Marques' appeal, which requests that the conditional approval of Brown Sugar Marketplace be denied. City staff has recommended that the director of planning's approval be sustained.
However, there is also the issue of employee parking. According to Marques, who said she circulated a petition that garnered more than 400 signatures opposing the opening of Brown Sugar Marketplace, several tenants within the shopping center are not on speaking terms as a result of employees parking in the customer spaces, among other parking issues.
“There are tenants that don’t communicate because, at this point, we’ve had such huge fights in regards to parking that we can no longer communicate,” Marques said. “It just came to the point where we just don’t talk.”
Bobbie Chance, owner of Expressions Unlimited, an acting studio within the shopping center, said that although her clients rarely park in the lot, she is well aware of the struggles faced by her neighboring businesses and their customers.
“It’s a nightmare,” Chance said. “It’s very difficult. It’s probably going to be even more difficult with another restaurant coming in.”
Mark Hutton, operator of Emerald Triangle, a medical marijuana dispensary in the shopping center, said he thinks that if a new business is to be incorporated, it should be required to provide a solution to the parking shortage.
“If a business were to be added there at all, there should be some alleviation to the parking situation, such as a valet service being offered,” Hutton said. “Come in with a solution. Don’t come in with the problem and ask us to solve it.”
The South Valley Area Planning Commission meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center, 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., in Van Nuys.