For more than two hours, Townscape Partners’ representatives heard from concerned community members Wednesday night regarding the developer’s plans to demolish the existing shopping center at 8150 Sunset Blvd. at Crescent Heights to build a mixed-use project.
More than 100 people, a majority West Hollywood residents, packed a meeting room at the Cinematographers Guild Building to hear presentations from Townscape representatives Gabe Kramer, a communications consultant for the project, and Edgar Khalatian, a lawyer with Paul Hastings, which is representing Townscape. Jonathan Brand, planning deputy for Los Angeles Councilmember Tom LaBonge, also spoke.
After short presentations, more than 30 concerned residents individually took to a microphone to give comments and pose questions, many of which the representatives said couldn’t be answered until a “draft environmental impact report” is done.
Residents aired a wide range of grievances with the project, including concerns over parking, rooftop sound, traffic, demolition of the Chase Bank building, which some see as having historical qualities, safety, the residential way of life being altered along Havenhurst Drive, and, above all, the 16-story height of the apartment building along Havenhurst.
Orrin Feldman, vice president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council, which hosted the event, arranged for the meeting as a way to provide more information to the public before the Los Angeles Planning Department’s Oct. 2 “scoping meeting,” which allows for public comments on what should be studied in the draft environmental impact report (EIR). The scoping meeting will run from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Will and Ariel Durant Branch Library at 7140 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
“Today’s like the first day of spring training,” Feldman said.
The proposed project would span 2.56 acres and include 249 total apartment units, including 28 units for “very low income households” (which means for those who make no more than 15 percent of the LA County median income, which is around $56,000), and 111,000 square feet of commercial uses, which would include restaurants, a grocery store, retail shops, fitness center and bank.
Two apartment buildings have been proposed. One would be a 108-foot-high, nine-story apartment building along Crescent Heights. The second would be a 191-foot-high, 16-story apartment building along Havenhurst Drive. All 249 units would be rentals.
Due to how the property is zoned, there are no height restrictions for the apartment buildings. Nevertheless, many residents took issue with the height of the Havenhurst building, and requested it be significantly lowered.
In response to height concerns, Townscape has pointed to its car-free pedestrian plaza running the length of the project, 15-foot sidewalks and other open space that might be lost if it has to lower the buildings.
While LaBonge has yet to take a stance on the project pending results of the EIR and residents’ feedback, he has said in an LA Times article that he believes “it’s a little too high as proposed.”
Many residents are also worried about an increase in traffic.
A recent KPCC article pointed out that the Sunset-Crescent Heights intersection is ranked No. 24 on LA’s list of “High Pedestrian-Related Collision Intersections,” with 16 vehicle-pedestrian accidents over the last five years.
Townscape has emphasized that its plan would actually make the intersection safer for pedestrians, who currently have to cross two traffic islands on Crescent Heights. Townscape’s plan would incorporate the larger traffic island into its design, and keep a dedicated right-hand turn lane from Sunset onto Crescent Heights.
Some residents felt Townscape’s promotion of improved pedestrian safety was a red herring distracting residents from their real concern, increased traffic.
“Why buy a home in Mt. Olympus if I can’t get there?” said one resident, referring to the Laurel Canyon neighborhood just north of the project.
Others called the developer’s designs for the traffic island “disingenuous,” pointing out that the City of Los Angeles owns the island and must approve what the developers want to do with it.
“The city owns it and will continue to own it. Whatever will be put there, and we will work with the community on the best use, whether it’s a pocket park or public plaza, the city would own but the developer would be responsible for creating and upkeeping that space,” Kramer said.
Townscape also proposes a seven-level parking structure (three levels underground), which would include 849 parking spaces (295 for the residential units and 554 for commercial parking).
Responding to concerns over the amount of “compact” parking spaces included in the plans, Kramer pointed to the fact that all residential parking would be done by valet, and both valet and “valet assistance” will be offered for the commercial spots.
“It helps facilitate more cars in the structure,” Kramer said. “It’s more efficient.”
Loading and unloading of retail merchandise would be done “internally,” but an entrance for trucks would be included on the Havenhurst side of the project. Townscape has also said it is considering “cul-de-sac’ing” Havenhurst depending on the results of the EIR’s traffic study.
The proposed project would demolish the Chase Bank building, which the Los Angeles Conservancy considers historic. The building was formerly Lytton Center, a 1960 modern bank building distinguished by its zigzag folded plate roof.
“With its dramatic, folded plate concrete roof and glass-walled banking floor, the former Lytton Center was a striking departure from traditional bank design when it opened in 1960,” according to the Conservancy. “As financial institutions nationwide analyzed the need for progressive banking methods following World War II, architects responded by radically reinventing the bank’s form. Lytton Center typified these national postwar banking trends through its modern architectural design, transparency, and integrated art component, and is one of Los Angeles’ earliest remaining examples of this transformative shift in postwar-era bank design.”
“The conservancy believes the building might qualify for CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) and that it needs to be analyzed,” Khalatian said. “The EIR will analyze the historic nature of the building and others in the area.”
At least one commenter also warned the representatives about the Hollywood fault, a 10-mile fracture that has sparked a battle over the Millennium Hollywood project. Developers say concerns over the fault are overblown, while residents, who are also opposed to the project’s scale, say it’s a major overlooked problem. While California law bans building directly on top of active earthquake faults capable of rupturing the surface, state geologists still haven’t mapped the Hollywood fault, leaving officials to rely on older, less-detailed maps.
The proposal requests four conditional use permits for restaurants, and the sale of alcohol from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., along with outdoor dining. A substantial amount of the outdoor dining would be on the buildings’ rooftops, prompting some residents in the nearby hills to worry about potential noise.
When pressed on whether nightclubs would be included in the plans, Townscape insisted it had no plans for including nightclubs, and that it would have needed to file an “entitlement” to include them.
Khalatian also said that no off-site signage (i.e., tall walls and billboards) would be on the property.