Residents Association Takes City of West Hollywood to Court Over Melrose Project

Concerned about possible harm to the quality of life in its neighborhood, the West Hollywood West Residents Association (WHWRA) has taken the City of West Hollywood to court over an approved project along Melrose Avenue.

Critical details of the project, which would bring a Restoration Hardware store to the 8564-8590 block of Melrose Avenue at Westmount Drive, were switched at the last minute and should require an environmental impact report (EIR), according to the association.

WHWRA has petitioned Los Angeles County Superior Court to stop the developer, BMB Investment Corp, and the city from moving forward until the proper studies have been carried out, or the project is scaled down. The petition was filed Sept. 19.

Writ of Mandate - West Hollywood West Residents Association v City of West Hollywood
Click above to view the Writ of Mandate petition filed by the West Hollywood West Residents Association to the City of West Hollywood.

“We feel we have a very strong case, and a lot of evidence that shows there should have been an environmental impact report,” said Lauren Meister, president of the Residents Association.

The project would be a two-story, 30,000 square foot building with 130 parking spaces on two underground levels, and would primarily house home furnishing showrooms.

An EIR was never done because the project was originally granted a “Negative Declaration,” a finding by a city council that a proposed development would have no effect on the environment.

However, the declaration came during the initial study, when the project was presented as a wholesale establishment that would attract significantly less traffic than a retail business. Just before it was approved on Aug. 20, the project became a mixed wholesale and retail project. That potentially means more noise, more traffic and more negative impact on the environmental, according to Meister.

Furthermore, WHWRA says the project is simply too big.

As part of the city’s new General Plan, the City Council created an Avenues Bonus overlay zone, which allows buildings to be taller if they meet certain criteria. The Melrose project makes use of that bonus and is allowed to be significantly taller than surrounding buildings at 35 feet. The project is permitted to be 40 percent taller and have 60 percent great density than is otherwise allowed, Meister said.

The city has defended granting the project a bonus because it would come with a public parking garage on Westmount, which the city counts as a “public benefit.”

“While West Hollywood West Residents Association is not opposed to commercial revitalization of Melrose Avenue with neighborhood serving retail uses, the Project that was approved would introduce large, non-neighborhood serving commercial uses that are out of scale and character for the area,” WHWRA’s court filing states.

Since 2009, when the project was first introduced as mixed-use, the Residents Association has fought it tooth and nail.

“WHWRA and the West Hollywood West community were there every step of the way — writing letters, submitting evidence provided by professional planning and traffic consultants, speaking at public hearings … to no avail,” Meister said.

On July 16, 2012, just before the project was approved, WHRA sent a letter to the city voicing its concerns and also requested mediation if the project were approved. The city turned down the mediation request.

The approval, by a 3 to 2 vote, didn’t come without some debate. Mayor Jeffrey Prang and council member John D’Amico voted against it.

From the beginning the Residents Association has also opposed the General Plan update for Melrose Avenue that included the Avenues Bonus.

In a January 2011 letter to the city council, the Association called Melrose Avenue “The City’s crown jewel.”

“Melrose Avenue, with its lower scale buildings, has sunshine, blue skies and views of the hills to the north. These attributes are part of what makes Melrose attractive. With heights greater than 25 ft., there will be no views and, instead of the warmth of the sun, there will be shadow and shade on the north side of Melrose. Business establishments like Urth Café will suffer.”

In recent years, the city has been sued by a number of activists seeking to preserve their neighborhoods, including lawsuits concerning the estate Tara and Carlton Manor apartment complex.

This is the first time the West Hollywood West Residents Association has taken the city to court, Meister said. To pursue its case, WHWRA must raise about $50,000 to pay for the legal proceedings. Meister said fundraising is underway.