There may finally be movement on the stalled Movietown Plaza project on West Hollywood’s East Side. The strip mall located on Santa Monica Boulevard between Fuller Avenue and Poinsettia Place has been nearly empty for two years, save for the popular Trader Joe’s grocery store and two other small businesses. Previous plans to redevelop it were halted when the developer and his investment and private equity partners parted company in a financial dispute.
But now one of the nation’s largest developers of upscale apartment buildings has acquired the property and submitted a plan for approval to the city’s Community Development Department.
Avalon Bay Communities submitted the plan in October according to John Keho, the city’s interim community development director. Avalon’s plan calls for two seven-story towers and 26,000 square feet of commercial space, whereas the previous developer’s plan had called for two 10-story towers and 26,000 square feet of commercial space,. The original plan called for nearly 300 condo units. Avalon also proposes 300 units, however they will be smaller and will be apartments rather than condos. As with the previous plan, Avalon proposes to create 77 senior housing units.
Avalon owns other apartment complexes in Los Angeles County, including the Avalon Del Rey at 5535 Westlawn Ave., where the monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment starts at $1,715; the Avalon Sunset at 1443 N. Fuller Ave., where one bedrooms start at $1,580 a month, and the Avalon Wilshire at 5115 Wilshire Blvd., where one bedrooms rent for $2,038 a month and up.
Keho said the new plan only requires approval by city staffers rather than the city council because it calls for smaller buildings than were in the original, approved plan. He did not say how long the approval process will take or when construction might begin.
The city council approved the original development plan, proposed by Beverly Hills developer Alan Casdan, in February 2010. Construction was supposed to be completed this year but a dispute between Casden, Aimco investment company of Denver and Cerberus LP, the New York private equity company,, put the development on hold. The property was seized by Cerberus and sold to Avalon.
Casdan’s plan had upset some East Side residents, such as community activist Cathy Blaivas, who was pleased when the project stalled.
“The big point made by the city when pushing the plan was that East Siders wanted something grand because they felt like stepchildren all these years,” Blaivas said, referring to the perception of some that the city has paid more attention to the city’s more heavily developed West Side. “There are residents in favor of 10 -story towers, but I just think that there are different sections of this city and not all of them have to look the same.”
Councilmember John D’Amico, elected in March 2011 and not on the city council when the plan was approved, accused his colleagues of overdeveloping the area.
“Under John Heilman and Abbe Land there was a strong push to supersize the east side. Their vision of West Hollywood was always whatever we can do to change the city is invited in and whatever scale or size is not as important as the value it might add.”
Council member Land rejected D’Amico’s assessment.
“I don’t feel anyone is super sizing the city. I think we’re all working to have development that meets the need of the community not only today but what we need tomorrow.” She added, “much of the development we approve is three or four stories, they’re not huge.”
The Casden plan was supported by council members Heilman, Land and John Duran. Councilmember (now Mayor) Jeffrey Prang also supported the project but expressed reservations over the height of the proposed buildings. The vote for the plan came despite a recommendation by the city planning department that it be rejected because it might increase traffic congestion.
Council member Land said she hopes the plan moves forward soon.
“We can all recognize that the way that shopping center is no longer meets the needs of the community,” she said.