A West Hollywood neighborhood’s long fight against a controversial development came to an end Monday night as the City Council denied an appeal for changes to the proposed Restoration Hardware building currently under construction at 8564 Melrose Ave. at Westmount.
Lauren Meister, a resident of the West Hollywood West neighborhood just south of the building and former president of the residents’ association, was appealing the Planning Commission’s 4-1 vote in August approving changes that include lowering the Melrose-facing façade to one story, making the entire façade more ornate and adding a rooftop deck for display of the company’s outdoor furniture line.
“Even though I didn’t win the appeal, at least we — not only me, but the community — got our points across,” Meister said. “We succeeded by shedding light on the issues. As far as I’m concerned, we won in that we were able to effectively communicate what’s wrong with the planning process and let’s hope it will help to improve the process in the future.”
The council voted 3-2, with council members John D’Amico and Jeffrey Prang opposing approval of the project changes and supporting the appeal.
“We’re thrilled that it’s over. We’re going to be very good neighbors. I think everybody in West Hollywood will be proud of this new store,” said Restoration Hardware spokesperson Sandy Hutchins.
The council first approved the 30,000-square-foot building in November 2012 for one wholesale and one retail tenant. Restoration Hardware, which sells high-end furniture and accessories, was always intended to be one of those tenants. However in March 2013, it opted to take over the entire building, alter the designs and make it into its California flagship store.
Much of the controversy concerned the process of getting the building approved and changes to the original plans. Meister and other West Hollywood West residents felt their concerns weren’t being heard and that they were not getting adequate notice about meetings concerning the project. In fact, Meister and some WeHo West residents protested the city changing the appeal hearing date from Oct. 21 to Nov. 4.
“It’s clear that all processes are messy and this one is exceedingly so,” D’Amico said.
The conflict was 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. The city considers Restoration Hardware a wholesale business since designers who have items shipped are its primary customers; only three percent of Restoration’s sales are “cash and carry.” However, Meister, who served on the city’s Planning Commission from 2011-2012, points out that Restoration has a retail business license, charges sales tax and is listed on the stock exchange as a retail business. When questioned by the Planning Commission in August, DeMonty Price, Restoration’s vice president of retail stores, avoided the question by calling it a “hybrid” of retail and wholesale.
“It’s wholesale with incidental retail,” Councilmember John Heilman said.
Since Meister contends Restoration is a 100 percent retail business, she says an environmental review is needed to study traffic, noise and other potential impacts. The city maintains its initial study for the building, which showed no significant environmental impacts, is still valid since it considers Restoration a wholesale business.
Councilmember Jeffrey Prang, who voted against the project when it was first proposed, agreed the impacts had not been sufficiently studied.
The other point of contention was the proposed 7,980-square-foot rooftop deck. Restoration says the deck will be a public space where people can eat lunch or drink coffee. Meister contends that the deck will be used as an event space and the noise will potentially disrupt the neighborhood. As a condition of approval, the Planning Commission limited the rooftop deck to four events per year, none of which can go after business hours.
Meister also worries that in the future Restoration or some other business occupying the building will try to open a restaurant or bar on the roof. Restoration currently does not have a conditional use permit to operate a restaurant on the roof, but Meister contends that could easily be changed in the future.
To address Meister’s concern, the council did add a condition that if the building is ever sold, the rooftop terrace must be further reviewed by the city.
The property is owned by BMB Investments Corp., which owns several other properties along that stretch of Melrose Avenue. BMB Investments, which is headed by Ben Soleimani, was initially developing the building, but Restoration took control of the construction when it opted to lease the entire building. Restoration has a 15-year-lease on the building with options for two five-year renewals.
Resident Larry Block, owner of Block Party and member of the Disabilities Advisory Board, said that Councilmember John Duran should recuse himself from voting because BMB Investments contributed $5,000 to the Friends of John Duran campaign fund during Duran’s council re-election campaign in March. Calling it a “world-class building,” Duran voted to deny the appeal.