The West Hollywood City Council tonight was unable to reach a decision on whether or not to approve a controversial project at 8899 Beverly Blvd.
In an “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” discussion, Council members went back and forth about whether converting the 52-year-old office building into condos with 14 units of low-income housing justified letting the developer nearly double its size, which already is larger than permitted by the city’s zoning ordinance for the area.
One factor weighed by Council members was a last-minute bonus package that the developer, Beverly Blvd. Associates, put forward late on Friday. That package included an offer to build a small park on Bonner Drive near the intersection of Robertson and Beverly boulevards, valued at $1 million; upping by $250,000 a previous offer of $1.75 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund; spending $250,000 on landscaping along Beverly Boulevard and Rosewood Avenue at the rear of the project; a donation of $100,000 to the city’s Urban Arts Project, and an expenditure of $3 million to subsidize the owners of Madeo Restaurant and its employees while it is closed for the building’s renovation.
John Duran was the only Council member who unabashedly supported the proposal. Duran argued that the so-called “adaptive reuse” of the building was important to protect it from possible earthquake damage, remove asbestos and make it more environmentally friendly. Duran also said that he saw the existing building as an “eyesore.” Councilmember Jeffrey Prang said converting the office building into a residential building would provide a protective buffer for residents of the neighborhood of single-family homes to its north, many of whom opposed the project.
Councilmember Abbe Land said she believes the building needs to be “brought into the 21st Century” and that she liked the developer’s proposal to include both condos and retail space and retain Madeo Restaurant in the building. But she said she was concerned that an alternative proposal by the developer would reduce the number of low-income apartments from 14 to 10. That would be accomplished by eliminating a building the developer had proposed on Rosewood Avenue to house a pool and low-income apartments.
Land also said she didn’t believe that all of the last minute benefits offered by Beverly Blvd. Associates were necessarily of benefit to the public. “I’m troubled about what looks like a lot of self-serving public benefits than real public benefits,” she said. And Land asked whether the project could be reduced in size. “I’m not sure that it needs to be as big as it is,” she said.
That concern was echoed by Councilmember John Heilman. “Is the increase in density justified by the benefits that we get from the project?” Heilman asked, calling out proposed large additions to the north, east and west sides of the existing 10-story building. He cited some of the benefits of the project as additional low-income housing and a donation to the city’s housing trust fund. Heilman said converting the building from office use to residential use also would reduce traffic in the area.
Mayor John D’Amico initially said he supported a recommendation by the city’s Community Development staff and the Planning Commission to deny the developer’s request for an exception to the zoning ordinance and to the city’s General Plan. But D’Amico said he thought the city’s staff should be asked to analyze the additional benefits offered by the developer.
The Council voted unanimously to ask city staffers to discuss with the developer the possibility of reducing the size of the building and the size of units and to provide an analysis of public benefit. The Council then will reconsider the project when that analysis is done.