In a precedent setting move, West Hollywood’s Planning Commission voted 5-1 Thursday night to approve a retail-residential building on the southwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard at Kings Road (across from the Gelsen’s supermarket) with 16 fewer parking spaces than the city’s zoning code requires. The city has never before approved a residential building with less than the required parking. Commissioner Heidi Shink was not present for the vote.
With 5,850 square feet of retail space and 48 residential units, the city’s code requires that the building have 20 retail parking spaces and 74 residential spaces. However, the commission approved the building with only 12 retail spaces and 66 residential spaces. The building will include four units for low-income residents and four for very-low-income residents, but none of those eight units will come with parking. Residents of those eight units will instead be given a free bus pass.
Because the building 8350-8364 Santa Monica Blvd. includes these units for low- and very-low-income residents, building owner Combined Properties invoked a 2004 state law to request the reduced parking requirement. That law requires local governments to grant certain concessions to a developer if at least 10 percent of the housing units are for low-income households, or five percent are for very-low income households, or the project is for senior citizens, or if it is a condominium project where 10 percent of the units are priced for people with moderate incomes. A “very low income” individual currently is defined as a person with no more than $28,370 in annual income, and a “low income” individuals is defined as someone making less than $45,392 a year.
City attorney Mike Jenkins told the commissioners they had no choice but to approve the parking reduction, unless they could come up with a compelling argument against it.
Commissioner David Aghaei, who voted against the project, said that not providing parking for all residents might be a health and safety violation. Aghaei acknowledged that residents of those eight units for low-income people may not need parking because they likely will be seniors without cars (the vast majority of 4,000 people on the city’s inclusionary housing wait list are seniors). But, he said, those residents may have people attending to their needs who do need parking.
While the commissioners agreed Aghaei offered a compelling argument, they opted not to test it. “The problem lies in SB 1818 (the state law), which we didn’t craft and have no control over,” Commissioner John Altschul said.
Commissioner Marc Yeber suggested some of the residents of the market-rate apartments might opt not to own cars since the building is on a major transit corridor. He said that Combined should work out an arrangement whereby low- and very-low-income residents who do have cars can be provided parking that the market-rate renters don’t use.
Jeff Haber, a lobbyist representing Combined, said visitors could use the building’s 12 retail parking spaces at night if necessary or park in the city-owned parking garage across the street or in the garage being built behind City Hall, a block away.
Although the 1000 block of Kings Road currently does not have nighttime parking restrictions, if it does adopt such restriction in the future, city staffers said residents of the building would not be eligible to get parking permits for themselves or guests.
Several residents of the adjacent condominium building at 1045 Kings Rd. asked the Planning Commission to require that the building’s underground parking garage be fully enclosed to reduce noise and that exhaust from that garage be vented toward Santa Monica Boulevard rather than their building.
Haber said Combined would fully enclose the garage if noise did become a problem. He also said the company had done a study showing the exhaust would be dissipated by the time it reached the street, so venting it toward Santa Monica Boulevard wouldn’t be necessary.
The building was originally approved in 2008 for 20 two-bedroom condominium units ranging from 1,000 to 1,800 square feet, but financing fell through during the recession. The newly approved designs call for three 375 square foot studio apartments, 24 one-bedroom apartments ranging from 535 to 600 square feet, six one-bedroom lofts of 822 square feet and 15 two-bedroom apartments ranging from 859 to 909 square feet.
Yeber praised the smaller size of the units saying that would mean the market rate apartments would have a lower rent.
While the city’s zoning code requires all residential units have 120 square feet of patio or balcony space, the units in this building which face Santa Monica Boulevard will not have balconies, another concession that Combined requested under SB 1818. All the other units will have balconies. The building will also have 4,200 square foot rooftop deck for all residents to use.
Combined is a Washington, DC-based developer whose CEO, Ronald Haft, has made the maximum campaign donation of $500 each in the past two election cycles to City Council members John D’Amico, John Heilman, Jeffrey Prang and John Duran and Mayor Abbe Land. Marianne Lowenthal, who heads Combined’s Southern California operation from Beverly Hills, donated $100 to Heilman and $500 to Duran. Haft and Lowenthal also donated to the unsuccessful 2011 campaign of Lindsey Horvath, who was appointed to the council by long-term incumbents Heilman, Land, Duran and Prang to fill a seat left empty by the death of council member Sal Gariello.