The West Hollywood Community Development Department is recommending that the city’s Planning Commission decline to approve a proposed redevelopment of the former ICM Building at 8899 Beverly Blvd. But its recommendation holds out some slight hope for the developer if it is willing to adjust its plans for including low-income housing.
The developer, a partnership of Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills and Angelo Gordon & Co. of New York, has proposed turning the existing office building into a combination of condominiums and retail space and also building an underground parking garage and townhouses and apartments for low income people facing nearby Rosewood Avenue. The building faces Beverly Boulevard between Robertson Boulevard and Almont Drive. At its rear is a parking lot with a ten-foot buffer of green space on Rosewood Avenue. It was built in 1962 and is known for its Mid-Century Modern style.
The 8899 Beverly property is zoned for commercial use only, and the existing building, constructed before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city in 1984, already doesn’t comply with the city’s zoning code. For one thing, it is 10 stories high while only three stories are permitted there. For another, it already has more than twice the square footage permitted in the zoning code for the 1.73-acre property.
The redevelopment would add 80,000 square feet, nearly doubling the size of the existing 90,000-square-foot building. The existing building houses the 3,889 square foot Madeo restaurant, 21,000 square feet of retail space and 65,000 square feet of office space. About 40,000 square feet of the proposed redevelopment would be devoted to stores, offices and a restaurant. The development also would include 56 condominiums and eight apartments for low-income people. Townhouses and another four apartments for low-income people are proposed on Rosewood.
Residents of the neighborhood of single-family homes north of the building have opposed the redevelopment. They note that theirs is one of the few neighborhoods in West Hollywood dominated by single-family homes and that the redevelopment plan calls for construction of the townhouses on the parking lot on Rosewood that faces their residential neighborhood.
John Irwin, a managing partner of Townscape, has argued that the current building is dilapidated and that redevelopment ” is the most green thing you can do for an obsolete building.”
In its report on the project, the Community Development Department recommends it not be approved.
“While the existing office building could be rehabilitated for residential uses, the expansion of the building is inconsistent with the General Plan,” it says. The report also says the requests by developers for an exemption to current zoning regulations should be granted only if they help “to implement the General Plan, not solely to exempt the project from certain development standards. The project as proposed far exceeds the density for the site contemplated by the General Plan…”
One argument the developer is making for being granted an exception to the zoning code is that it will offer housing for low-income people at below-market rents. Under the city’s zoning code, the developer has two options: offer 20 percent of the residential units to low-income tenants at a below-market rent, with those units being of similar quality to the market-rate units, or make sure that the total square footage of the low-income housing units equals at least 20 percent of the total square footage of the condominiums. Those units also must be of a size appropriate for the needs of West Hollywood’s low-income residents.
The city’s Community Development Department says the proposed low-income units aren’t of a similar quality to the condo units and that the low-income units, because of their larger-than-necessary size, won’t generate enough rental income to be financially sustainable over the long run. The department’s report says that it is in discussion with the developer about options to address that issue.
Townscape Partners is no stranger to controversy. It was a major donor to to opponents of the successful campaign to establish term limits for West Hollywood City Council members in 2013, giving $2,500 to that effort. Its principals, John Irwin and Tyler Siegel, and members of their families donated $1,500 to Councilmember John Duran’s re-election campaign last year and $500 to the campaign of Councilmember Jeffrey Prang.
In May, Townscape managed to get a state “environmental leadership development project” (ELDP) designation for a controversial project at the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards. Nearby residents raised concerns over parking, rooftop sound, traffic, demolition of the Chase Bank building on the site, which some see as historic, and the 16-story height of a proposed apartment building along Havenhurst. With the ELDP designation, opponents of the project will have no more than 270 days to take legal action to stop it. That is an exceptionally short period in the California legal system.
Four members of the West Hollywood City Council voted to send a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown opposing the ELDP designation. Councilmember Duran abstained, saying the complex proposal had arrived before the Council too late for him to adequately study it.
The Planning Department will hear comments from the public and consider the Community Development Department’s recommendation at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the City Council Chambers at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica.