Ahead of a West Hollywood City Council appeal hearing on the controversial Restoration Hardware project, sparks are already flying between resident Lauren Meister, who filed the appeal, and the city.
Meister, the former planning commissioner and past president of the West Hollywood West Residents Association, which has fiercely fought the Restoration Hardware project since its 2012 approval, says the city is being unfair to nearby residents by changing the hearing date from Oct. 21 to Nov. 4.
According to Meister, who sent a nine-page letter detailing the basis of her appeal to the council Thursday, the date change would “create a hardship for us as I am told that WHWRA newsletters have already been printed with this hearing date.”
Residents living in the West Hollywood West neighborhood immediately south of the planned 30,000-square-foot building at 8564 Melrose Ave. at Westmount, say the project has changed drastically since it was first approved.
The conflict is largely over whether Restoration Hardware is in fact a “wholesale” business, where products are not sold to the average customer and little traffic is generated. While the project was originally approved in 2012 as a mixed-use project (half retail, half wholesale), neighbors believe it is now entirely retail and will add traffic to an area already experiencing a parking crunch. However, the city considers it a wholesale business. Restoration Hardware has avoided the subject by calling its business a “hybrid.”
Due to design changes and at the request of neighbors, the Planning Commission in August re-considered the project, which is being developed by BMB Investments Corp. It was again approved.
Meister is asking the council to overturn that Planning Commission decision. In her appeal she includes Restoration Hardware’s most recent filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in which the word “retail” appears 19 times with no mention of “wholesale.”
Meister said the Oct. 21 date for her appeal hearing was confirmed multiple times with the city, and newsletters announcing it to more than 1,000 West Hollywood West residents have already been printed.
In an email provided to WEHOville, City Clerk Corey Schaffer tells Meister, “Until a public hearing is noticed and the agenda for a City Council is finalized, staff works collaboratively with the city manager to determine what items are placed on an agenda.”
However, Meister, who says the city has not provided her with a reason for the change, says a public notice sign was spotted on the property yesterday before it was removed.
Assistant Community Development Director John Keho admitted that the sign went up with the Oct. 21 date.
“This week planning staff became aware that one council member would be absent from this meeting,” Keho said. “In order to have this item reviewed by the full council we are moving this item to the Nov. 4 agenda.”
Councilmember John D’Amico said he was aware that Councilmember John Duran would be out of town for the next council meeting. “I’m not sure if or why senior staff has decided to defer this item,” he said. “They haven’t decided to defer any of the other items. And it’s still on the agenda that was just emailed to me.”
Duran was one of three council members who voted to approve the project in August 2012. D’Amico and then-Mayor Jeffrey Prang voted against it. At the time, D’Amico voiced his concern over whether the project would have a “public benefit” to justify it receiving a “bonus,” which allowed it to go over the area’s zoning height limit.
However, given past voting, even if Duran were not present a 2-2 vote would mean the motion would fail.
In her appeal letter, Meister claims there are seven “falsehoods” regarding the project that, she says, “have made a mockery of the city’s approval process.”
The City Council originally approved the building in November 2012 for two tenants – one wholesale, one retail. Restoration Hardware was always intended to be one of those tenants.
In March 2013, the developer again altered the project design after Restoration Hardware decided to take over the entire building and make it into its California flagship store.
The neighborhood association had previously filed a lawsuit in Oct. 2012 to stop the project. At the time, the association claimed critical details of the project were switched at the last minute and should require an environmental impact report (EIR). The project has never had an EIR done because it originally received a “negative declaration,” which determines no EIR is needed. In early January 2013, the association’s petition was denied in court.
The most recent changes include lowering the Melrose-facing facade to one story and making the entire facade more ornate. Most contentious is Restoration Hardware’s request to add a rooftop deck to display outdoor furniture. Residents worry the store will hold events on the roof, leading to noise and lighting.
In August, for the second time the Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve changes to the project, despite protests from about 20 West Hollywood West residents.
In Meister’s appeal, she criticizes City Attorney Mike Jenkins for telling the commission at that meeting to only consider proposed design changes to the building and not the use, and that a debate over whether the project is wholesale or retail is moot as a court had already ruled on it in January.
“The judge’s ruling does not apply to the project as it is presented today because the project has been modified considerably; therefore, it was erroneous for the city attorney to instruct the Planning Commission to only consider the design,” Meister argues in her appeal.
Meister points out that the project that went before the judge did not include the rooftop deck. She contends that Jenkins’ advice “led the Planning Commission to violate CEQA.”