Charles Cohen Describes Metro Redevelopment Plan As a ‘Starting Point’

charles cohen, mta, santa monica boulevard
Rendering of proposed Design Village on Santa Monica Boulevard with hotel (on left) and office buildings. (Gruen Associates)

A recently released plan for redevelopment of the Metro bus storage facility site on Santa Monica Boulevard is a “starting point” to begin the process of an environmental and public review according to Charles Cohen.

“We are still in the early stages of a process that will give you, city residents, Metro, the Sheriff and all stakeholders numerous opportunities to shape the proposed project, and of course nothing can be approved without your approval,” Cohen said in a letter to the West Hollywood City Council. Cohen’s Cohen Brothers Realty Corp. of California is trying to negotiate a contract with Metro that would let it redevelop the 10.4-acre site.

Cohen’s letter comes in response to criticism by some Council members and local residents of a recently released design for the Design Village project, which would include 1.35 million square feet of residential, commercial and public space, including a new City Hall and Sheriff’s Station.

Mayor John D’Amico last week described a rendering of the Cohen project as “an amateur rendering of a disaster.”

“It would be my position that any development of this size in that location would go before the voters and not the Council,” D’Amico said.

Councilmember John Heilman also criticized the project as shown in the rendering. “The proposal that was given to the city regarding the MTA site is both unacceptable to the community and the city,” he said. “Giving one developer exclusive access to the site is extremely problematic, and the priority for this site from a city and community perspective should be a re-imagination of the yard to significantly reducing the number of buses that receive regular maintenance here. This site should be a hub for transit users, pedestrian-oriented and reflect the character and heart of the city.”

The City Council on Monday will consider a recommendation from the Community Development Department that the city ask Metro not to renew a contract that has given Cohen Brothers Realty the exclusive right to negotiate with Metro to redevelop the property. That agreement is set to expire April 17. The Council also will be asked to authorize city staffers to work with Metro and Los Angeles County, which owns the adjacent site on which the Sheriff’s Station sits, to develop a plan to collaborate on possible development of the site and a study of the feasibility of a Metro rail station.

In his letter to the Council, Cohen said that he and his team have engaged the city in planning for the project.

“At my explicit direction, my team has made extensive efforts to keep the city informed of everything we are doing as we work our way toward starting the application, environmental review and public hearing process,” he said. “I’ve met with each of you to learn your thoughts regarding the variety of uses that you envision for this important site.”

Cohen said that input from city staffers led to the addition of a “portal” near the intersection of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards that could provide an entrance to an underground rail station if Metro were to extend a rail line into West Hollywood. He also said that the residential and commercial space proposed for the site is necessary to finance a proposed 50,000-square-foot City Hall and 50,000-square-foot Sheriff’s Station. “The only option to be able to viably finance these significant and important public uses is for the project also to contain substantial private non-government uses,” he said.

The City Council will discuss the Community Development Department recommendations at its meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica.

  1. Our current city hall (35,280 square feet) is big enough and grand enough for this small city.

    We definitely DON’T need a 50,000-square-foot city hall (42% bigger than the current city hall).

    This is a small city that outsources most services: police, fire, library, garbage/recycling, water and sewer, parking enforcement, landscaping/tree trimming, most social services.

    Considering the limited scope of services managed by city employees, we don’t need a bigger city hall, we don’t need more bureaucrats, and we don’t need a new city hall.

    Size of current city hall per:

  2. This is a JOKE right? Early April Fools??? The Last Thing in the World WeHo needs is another BEHEMOTH next to the PDC.

    If we have the land, and we’re constantly crying for affordable housing, why not make the complex a SMALL SCALE affordable housing village?

  3. Current city hall is 35,280 square feet ( and ).

    We do NOT need a 50,000-square-foot city hall (42% bigger than the existing city hall).

    Current city hall is paid for, relatively centrally located and big enough for a city of 35,000 people–particularly for a city that outsources most significant work (police, fire, library, water and sewers, garbage/recycling, parking enforcement, landscaping/tree trimming, many social services).

    Leave city hall where it is and remove city hall from the consideration set for redevelopment of the MTA/sheriff’s department property.

    Not enough desks for all the bureaucrats at city hall? Then reconfigure the existing space by shrinking the size of cubicles and eliminating private offices; add a few small private conference rooms for staffers to meet with visitors and to make private calls.

  4. Can we stop talking about a rail line through Weho? It isn’t going to happen, at least in the next 30-50 years. It isn’t even on the MTA wish list.

    The real reason Cohen wants to develop this property is so the tenants of the Red Building will have a nice view. I went to their initial presentation at the PDC a couple of years ago. One of their presenters had an aerial view of the current site and a drawing of the new. His question was which looks better? My answer was that as I walk along San Vicente and Santa Monica I see grass and trees with a wall behind. I don’t see the bus depot (or operations center, it’s all the same). So why do we have to suffer with a massive over-development of this property? The Red Building has been vacant for 2 years. Has anyone asked why? And when it is occupied, where will all the traffic go? Onto Melrose which is already jammed?

    I’m not opposed to redeveloping the property, but does every development have to massive? A new civic center or scaled down development could be useful, but this Cohen concept should be DOA.

  5. No, No No. This is just too obscenely massive for West Hollywood. Can you imagine the traffic for 1.35million square feet of space. Aren’t there size constraint laws in West Hollywood? Think of The Grove and the nightmare it becomes on weekends and between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Do we really want that in the heart of WeHo? If you want to use the space constructively, I would whole heartedly support an attempt at building a new metro complex and sheriff station, and then above it have an elevated open greenspace or park. West Hollywood park is beginning it’s transformation and will soon have little to no open or free space. Imagine a large open Central Park-like area, maybe an ampitheatre for outdoor concerts or plays ala Chicago’s Millineum Park. Do a google search for the new elevated Floating Hudson River park in Manhatten. I would much rather West Hollywood’s future being known for open inviting public spaces rather than overly large condo’s and retail stores.

  6. This just doesn’t pass the smell test. Cohen did his own thing and thinks he can buy the council for a reason—-because he knows he CAN. Stop the madness. This development is scaled waaaay to big.

  7. The Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem John Heilman are spot on with their evaluation of this proposal.

    The PDC and the new Red Building are disasters and dead zones. What a shame. Let’s not continue on that road with this developer. Terminate the contract and let’s look for a project that West Hollywood deserves, is useful to us and will contribute to the betterment of our community.

  8. “He also said that the residential and commercial space proposed for the site is necessary to finance a proposed 50,000-square-foot City Hall and 50,000-square-foot Sheriff’s Station.”

    Here’s a thought: We don’t need a new city hall. We have a viable city hall. It’s paid for. (Not enough space in the current city hall? Then do what is happening in offices across the country: Eliminate private offices, make cubicles smaller, add some mini-conference rooms for private conversations and/or fire some staffers to make it work.)

    Cohen implies that Cohen would build the city hall with some sort of Cohen subsidy as a sweetener to sell this project to the city council, and that he needs big commercial/residential development to pay for that subsidized city hall.

    So eliminate the new city hall, and by Cohen’s seeming admission this land can be developed with an economically viable smaller-scale project.

  9. As I said in my last comment on the subject of the Mega-Metro complex, these are early massing drawings – even the most detailed looking ones, that are used by designers to get an idea of what their project MIGHT look like at their current size estimations. I wouldn’t doubt if the original rendering was done on trace paper. It seems like the developer has already begun a relationship wiith Gruen, which I think limits the possibilities of a real knockout of a building by not getting other proposals via design contest or rfp or whatever, since this will occupy one of the four corners at the ‘Rainbow Intersection’. I am not intending to slight Gruen’s design capabilities here, just that history (remember Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial) came from a yet to be discovered design genius. If this commission was well publicized, and we were able to honor submissions from a larger pool that usual in our city, wouldn’t it be cool if the chosen design was from a gay person looking to break into the field architecture. These 1 million + square foot landmark projects don’t come along every day.
    Again, I am not meaning to slight any non-gay person who submits a proposal, and sexual identity should have NOTHING to do with the selection process. This is my personal thought because I know how difficult it would have been when I was first starting out a while back – I am 57, you do the math. I can’t say I would have felt safe enough to self identify as a gay man and submit my ideas.

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