Depleted Movietown Plaza Has New Developer, New Plan

West Hollywood Movietown Plaza
(Photo by Christine Detz)

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.

West Hollywood Movietown Plaza
(Photo by Christine Detz)

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.

West Hollywood Movietown Plaza
(Photo by Christine Detz)

“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.

  1. if west hollywood was planning a new rapid transit system to facilitate movement through its increasingly congested area, i would feel a lot better about the planned developments going up all over the city. it is short-sighted of the city planners not to be building some sort of alternate transportation — light rail through alleys? sub-surface tunnels? some alternative means of getting from la brea to doheny without sitting in gridlock. driving across weho these days is reminiscent of driving through midtown manhattan.

  2. It is not a matter of if this property will be developed…but when.
    As a resident and worker in that neighborhood I just want the thing to get done
    so I can get the construction phase behind me.
    That 2 year process has been looming for 4 years now.
    10 stories, 7 stories…whatever…Please…just get on with it!

  3. Hardly a predominantly Russian neighborhood Martincomet! What do you mean the approval was based on a different status quo? What does that mean? The approval was the approval. It’s a fully entitled project. If Avalon wanted to build the original plans, they could start tomorrow. All you anti-developement people should be praising Avalon for lowering the height.

    1. tms, i actually wouldn’t mind seeing this site developed. so you can’t write me off as anti-development.

      my point is that there currently is no long term plan to mitigate traffic flow as several large developments are being built in a small area (near labrea and smb). that is a criticism of the city, not the development by avalon with which you seem enamored with (“praising Avalon”? what an interesting idea, i was going on the assumption that they were a for-profit business). let me just point out that 300 units in 7 stories will have the same effect on traffic as 300 units in 10 stories.

      you must not live in the neighborhood, it is predominantly russian. hardly news.

      status-quo: the approval was based on a set of facts that no longer exist. you were the one to point that out. major developments in the area have since been approved and are actually being built. you’re right, legally that might have no bearing whatsoever right now. until the city decides that it does and finds a way to mitigate either the project or its own non-existing traffic vision.

  4. @TMS I was always curious why the Russian office was aloud to stay in this mall after everyone else was evicted? Do you know why? Whos “most of us”?

  5. @Virginia Gillick: This project was approved LONG before the La Brea Monarch projects were every approved.

    Most of us on the east side are very much in favor of this project. The previous businesses all but shunned non-Russians. Other than Trader Joes, it was a highly inhospitable shopping mall.

    1. yeah, who is “most of us”? and what’s wrong with some russian businesses in a predominantly russian neighborhood? (sorry you had a bad experience there, TMS).

      this site has been a disaster for many years. the planning process for this project has been a disaster. the approval was based on a different status quo as TMS points out so it should be re-evaluated.

      one way or another the traffic issue will have to be addressed. as we have an election coming up maybe one of the candidates or incumbents will have some ideas?

  6. The “Master Plan” is what opened the door for this greedy use of WEHO. That’s what needs to be challenged and re-evaluated. After the city was sued for “Spot Zoning”. The council Just changed the rules concerning how high and how dense. The deeper question to me is who approved that? Its clearly in the incumbents donations records a flood of money from Casdan for their re-election. Does anyone wonder if its pay to play in weho?

  7. in the absence of any comprehensive long term vision by the city how traffic could possibly not come to a complete gridlock (as of now we have partial gridlock), this kind of project would be an absurd addition to SMB. the development itself might or might not be acceptable but the many hundreds of added car trips can simply not be absorbed anymore.
    complete gridlock is upon us and the city needs to address it somehow. denial is not an option.

  8. I am surprised that no comments have been made to tag along with this article. It seems to me that it would be extremely unfair to the entire City of West Hollywood and to the residents of all the adjacent communities not to wait until the huge residential buildings along LaBrea are rented and occupied before approving another 300 residential units to be thrown into the traffic pressure in this area. LaBrea and Santa Monica Blvd. are some of the most heavily utilized roads in the area for travel East/West and North/South. I also wonder how many of the “City Staffers” who will be charged with approving or disapproving the development permitted for this parcel of land are residents of West Hollywood or the close surrounding areas. The east side of West Hollywood was ignored for decades and because some complained about the blind eye they are now being punished by over development. I feel so disheartened to see the way West Hollywood has changed from the City which was envisioned and established 4 years before I moved to it. I hope many of us will stop and think about this and try to make a difference before we become just another cold, dark, crowded and unfeeling place along the road.

  9. Holy cow! The plan was approved “despite a recommendation by the city planning department that it be rejected because it might increase traffic congestion?” That statement would indeed be hilarious if it was in fact true. It’s more true now even before construction has begun.

    The reckless city council of West Hollywood has continually approved questionable and completely unnecessary high rise construct that will forever change the face of West Hollywood. And where is all this new influx of cash going? Has anyone asked? These developers are obviously greasing the local politicians. What other explanation could there be for the incessant construction currently in place, previously approved and the obvious new developments that are still to come. The City Council’s obvious lack of respect for it’s historic past (Approving the CIM construction on The Lot, the endless pursuit of monies to pillage Plummer Park) are now going to blot out the sun and skyline of what was once the small town feel of West Hollywood.


    Sal Gomez
    Save The Pickford-Fairbanks Studios

  10. City Planning Department recommended rejecting it because it “might” increase traffic congestion? Might? Might? What is everyone smoking? What is the matter with these people and why, pray tell us, are they being allowed to develop this 1.89 sq. miles until it is bursting at the seams?

    Councilmember Land makes a rash generalization when she states, “we can all recognize that the way that shopping center is no longer meets the needs of the community.”. I am not sure to whom she is referring when she says “We can all…” Many, many residents on the east side opposed the massive development and still do. Two seven story structures is not much better than two ten story, especially with the same number of units (300). The density the staff and council are imposing on this side of town, is reaching obscene proportions. The traffic between Fairfax and La Brea is already a nightmare. If, infact, the City has as much money as they are constantly reminding us, what is the “need” to pack in 300 more families with a minimum of 600 car trips per day? The shopping center DID MEET THE NEEDS of our community until more than a dozen long time, successful, mom and pop businesses were evicted after 40 years or more. They took away our laundramat, our shoe repair, our unique little restaurants, our hair salon, and our one of a kind tropical fish store. And for what? Progress? Now, by building a still massive development, they are in effect , taking away our open space as well. Wake up people, before SMB is a dark, shadowy, corridor, already zoned for five stories between the corners and up to eleven stories at the intersections, with gridlock extraordinaire. It is happening right under our noses; the community be damned. When the three projects on La Brea are finished, maybe those who have no visual of what tall buildings lining the boulevard will look like, will finally have a clue of how the development is ruining our tiny city. One gets the distinct feeling the overdevelopment is lining someone’s pockets and it certainly isn’t yours or mine.

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