After a lengthy public hearing that attracted more than 50 speakers, the West Hollywood Planning Commission declined tonight to support a controversial proposal to redevelop 8899 Beverly Blvd.
In a four-to-two vote, the Commission adopted a recommendation by city planners to reject the proposal, which would nearly double the size of the existing ten-story building.
The developer, a partnership of Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills and Angelo Gordon & Co. of New York City, has proposed expanding the building on its north, east and west sides and converting the existing office space to 55 condominium units. It also has proposed converting a third-floor parking garage into offices and ten apartments for low-income tenants. Under state law, developers are able to get waivers for certain restrictions on a building’s size by including housing for low-income people in their plans.
The developer also has proposed building nine single-family houses along Rosewood Avenue to the north of the 8899 Beverly building and constructing a recreation center with a swimming pool and four apartments for low-income people along Rosewood.
The 8899 Beverly building, which now mostly houses offices, was constructed in 1962, 22 years before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city. Because of its size — 90,000 square feet on 1.7 acres — the building doesn’t comply with the city’s General Plan, a overall development plan that was adopted in 2011 after many public hearings or the zoning for the area.
8899 Beverly sits within a commercial zone where buildings are limited to three stories in height. Zoning for the area also limits buildings to no more than 1.5 square feet of floor space for each square foot of property on which the building sits. The existing building has 3.3 square feet of floor space for each square foot of property. With the proposed expansion it would have 6.1 square feet of floor space for each square foot of land.
The developer sought a way around that restriction by asking city to let it combine the 8899 Beverly lot, zoned for commercial use, with the land along Rosewood Avenue, zoned for residential use. By combining the land on which the massive 10-story building sits with land on which it proposed to builder smaller houses, the developer could argue that the overall project had only 2.8 square feet of space per square foot of land.
The proposal discussed by the Planning Commission tonight was significantly different from an earlier proposal that had called for construction of townhouses along Rosewood. Residents of the nearby neighborhood objected that townhouses were out of character with an area of single-family homes. Also, the developer backed away on Wednesday from a controversial plan to deny low-income tenants access to the swimming pool, which some of them would have been able to view from their apartments.
That “poor door” policy has been the subject of heated debate in other cities where low-income tenants living in subsidized housing have been denied access to amenities offered to their wealthier neighbors. The city’s Community Development Department objected to that segregation, arguing that it wasn’t in keeping with the values of West Hollywood. On Wednesday, the developer agreed to let all residents have access to the same amenities
Even though the developer stepped back from that policy, it continued to draw criticism at tonight’s hearing.
“In WeHo, we don’t treat our less fortunate like second class citizens,” said Lauren Meister, a former Planning Commission member who is a candidate in the 2015 election for the West Hollywood City Council. “We don’t like to be bullied, and we don’t want our General Plan to be up for sale.”
Jimmy Palmieri, a member of the city’s Human Services Commission, complained to the Commission that an internet search showed many stories linking West Hollywood with the “poor door” policy.
Major support for the proposed development came from the West Hollywood Design District, which represents design-oriented businesses on Robertson and Beverly boulevards and Melrose Avenue.
Darren Gold, chairman of the Design District, said its 12-member board unanimously supported the redevelopment. He said it would revitalize “what now is a stagnant strip of Beverly…. It will produce a myriad of benefits to our district.”
Elizabeth Solomon of Mayfair House also spoke in support of the project, saying it would add life to that part of Beverly Boulevard. Genevieve Morrill, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, also asked the Planning Commission to endorse the development.
The primary opponents of the project were residents of the neighborhood of single-family homes to the north of the property. They gathered more than 1,000 names on a petition to oppose it. While several said they supported the developer’s goal of rehabilitating the facade of 8899 Beverly, they objected to the overall size of the project.
Commissioner Marc Yeber stressed that he and other commissioners were in favor of the developer’s proposal to adapt the 22-year-old building for new uses and were happy with its decision to grant access to amenities to all residents. But Yeber and Commissioners Heidi Shink, Sue Buckner and Donald DeLuccio objected to the massive size of the project and the fact that it contradicted a development plan adopted by the city only three years ago.
The Commission’s decision will be conveyed to the City Council, which has the final say on the matter. The developer needs the Council’s approval because it is asking the city to amend its general plan and change the zoning of the area to permit the expansion of the building.
The seven-member Planning Commission is appointed by the City Council, with each of the five Council members making an appointment and two Planning Commissioners named by the Council at large. The Planning Commissioners who voted in support of the 8899 Beverly project were John Altschul, appointed by Mayor John D’Amico, and Commission Chairman Roy Huebner, appointed by Councilmember John Duran. Commission member David Aghaei, appointed by Councilmember John Heilman, wasn’t present at tonight’s meeting.