The West Hollywood City Council will take up one of the most controversial developments to land on its agenda in recent years when it considers on Monday whether to approve the project at 8899 Beverly Blvd. Its decision, whichever way it goes, is likely to stimulate another heated debate about whether West Hollywood is becoming overbuilt or needs more housing to slow its rapid growth in rents and housing prices and about whether city neighborhoods are losing their character or such evolution is inevitable in an urban area.
On the Council’s agenda will be a slimmed down version of a proposal that has been winding its way through the city’s complicated approval process for about three years. The developer, a group called Beverly Boulevard Associates, a partnership of Townscape Management and Angelo Gordon & Co., a New York City investment firm, purchased the building and its accompanying parking lot in July 2012, for $38.5 million
The building, commonly referred to as the ICM building because talent agency International Creative Management once had offices there, was built in 1962 in the Mid-Century Modern style. Its owners also purchased 12 residential lots on Rosewood Avenue directly behind the building and created a surface parking lot for the office tenants, buffering it from the residential neighborhood with a 10-foot wide stretch of green space.
With 90,000 square feet and 10 stories, 8899 Beverly had more than twice the square-footage on the 1.73-acre lot than is permitted under the General Plan that the city adopted in 2011 and far exceeded the permitted height of three stories. Given that it already existed, the building was “grandfathered” into the plan.
Thus the developer must seek from the City Council a special exception so that it can dramatically expand the size of the building, change it from an office building to a condo building and build additional housing on the lot facing Rosewood.
Residents of West Hollywood West, 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 have objected to the initial proposal to build townhouses on the parking lot on Rosewood that faces their residential neighborhood. Questions also have been raised about the traffic the project would generate and the look of the renovated building’s north-facing facade.
The city’s Planning Commission in August 2014 rejected Townscape’s request for permission to turn the building into a combination of 56 condominiums and eight apartments for low-income people along with retail space, room for the existing Madeo restaurant and an underground parking garage. That would have added 80,000 square feet, nearly doubling the size of the existing 89,000-square-foot building. Townscape also proposed adding nine townhouses, a recreation center with a pool and four apartments for low- and moderate-income people facing Rosewood Avenue.
Townscape appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council. In its appeal it offered a package of almost $3.5 million in public benefits, which the Council is allowed to consider. They included construction of a small park on Bonner Drive near the intersection of Robertson and Beverly boulevards (valued at $1 million), contributing $2 million to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, spending $250,000 to improve landscaping along Beverly Boulevard and Rosewood Avenue, donating $100,000 to the city’s Urban Arts program, contributing $32,000 in membership dues to the West Hollywood West Neighborhood Association. Townscape said it also would spend $3 million to renovate Madeo, the restaurant now located in the building, with that expense including compensating the owners for lost business while the restaurant is closed and paying Madeo employees during that time.
But the Council in September 2014 asked the city’s planning staff to work with Townscape to try to reduce the size of the proposed project and to analyze the benefit to the city of the extras that Townscape was offering.
The project that Townscape will present to the Council on Monday includes a number of changes:
1) The building’s mass will be reduced by eliminating 8,000 square feet of proposed new construction. The east and west wings that Townscape proposed for the building, which sat 10 feet from the property line, would be pulled back an additiona 10 feet.
2) The number of housing units for low- and moderate-income people would be increased from 12 to 15, with all of them located inside the 8899 Beverly Building.
3) The number of condominium units would be reduced from 56 to 52.
4) The proposed 23 duplex units on Rosewood would be reduced to nine single-family homes, none more than two stories high. Their parking garages would be located behind the houses, not in front of them.
5) The proposed recreation center on Rosewood would be eliminated to preserve the residential feel of the area.
6) Square footage allocated for commercial uses such as restaurants and shops would be reduced 10,000 square feet, which might reduce the need for parking.
7) Another 77 spaces would be added to the underground parking structure.
8) Outdoor terrace space on levels four through nine on the north side of the building would be reduced in response to privacy concerns of neighbors north of the building.
9) The facade of the building would be redesigned to make it more attractive.
At a recent presentation by Townscape of changes to the project a major issue raised by neighbors was the absence of any images of the north side of the building, which is the facade the residential neighborhood will face. Townscape’s Tyler Siegel promised to have such an image available for the Council meeting.
The Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. at the Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Validated parking is available in the five-story parking structure on El Tovar P