A controversial project proposed for Beverly Boulevard received mixed reviews Thursday night from the design review subcommittee of the West Hollywood Planning Commission.
Owners of the 51-year-old office building at 8899 Beverly Blvd. propose to expand the building and convert it into residential units. At the same time, they want to build underground parking beneath the current surface parking lot behind the building. On top of that underground parking would be 13 townhouses opening onto Rosewood Avenue, a pool/recreation center and a building of four affordable units.
The subcommittee, which only evaluates the aesthetic aspects of a project, liked the designs for the “adaptive re-use” and expansion of the 8899 building. Commissioner David Aghaei called it “elegant and understated,” while Commissioner John Altschul thought it looked “absolutely sensational.”
However, the subcommittee wasn’t as enamored with the townhouses in large part because each would have separate single-car garages prominently visible from the street. Altschul pointed out that the existing Rosewood Avenue homes with garages have them toward the back of the property, barely visible from the street.
“You’re on a residential street and it should be treated as a residential street,” said Altschul, suggesting the large number of garages gives it more of a “tract-homes-in-a-suburban-subdivision feel.”
City regulations state that a garage cannot take up more than 50 percent of the front façade of a home. The Rosewood garages take up 40 percent of the façade, according to lobbyist Jeff Haber, who represents the project. Haber said eliminating the garages would make the townhouses seem like condominium buildings.
The existing surface parking lot was created several years after the 8899 building opened in 1962 when the building’s owners bought 12 homes on Rosewood and tore them down. While the current city code would not allow a commercial parking lot in a residential area, the lot is grandfathered in because it predates the creation of the city in 1984.
“You have a legal, non-conforming use that you want to take back to its conforming use,” said Altschul. “There are rules you must follow.”
While the 13 townhouses, recreation center and affordable units would be in nine separate buildings along Rosewood, the design calls for different styles and building materials to make each townhouse look unique.
Resident Seth Meier, who lives directly across the street from the proposed townhouses, spoke against the project saying it was bigger in scope that the rest of the neighborhood.
The 8899 Beverly property was purchased in July 2012 for $38.5 million by Beverly Boulevard Associates, a partnership of Townscape Partners and Angelo Gordon & Co., a New York City investment firm. The 8899 office building, often referred to as the ICM building because talent agency International Creative Management was once housed there, has been largely vacant in recent years.
Townscape Partners, which is developing the building, plans to expand the 10-story, 89,000 square-foot building by adding a 25-foot wraparound addition on three sides (every side but the Beverly Boulevard side), something that would nearly double the size of the building.
The building’s upper floors would be converted to 64 condominiums (including eight units of affordable housing), while the lower two floors would continue to have retail and offices. The famed Italian restaurant Madeo will remain in the building.
Architect Tom Kundig, of the Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, predicted more aging buildings will be adapted for different uses in the years to come.
“Adaptive re-use is the future of architecture,” said Kundig.
Kundig’s plans call for the existing mid-century style 8899 building with its distinctive balconies to still be recognizable, while the additions to the sides and back would have a more modernistic design.
City planner Stephanie Reich, who previously worked as an architect, included a memo critiquing the designs with the meeting’s agenda. She called the meshing of the two styles an “incoherent design.”
“The additions look like a new and different building that has been ‘tacked on’ to the sides and top, leaving elements of the existing Beverly Boulevard façade, including the balconies, in unharmonious competition,” reads Reich’s critique.
Business owner Elizabeth Solomon, who owns the Mayfair House home furnishings store directly across the street from the 8899 building, spoke highly of the design, saying it would go a long way to beautifying Beverly Boulevard. Solomon called the 8899 building as it stands today “an eyesore of the road.”