Divided WeHo City Council Votes to Move Forward with 8899 Beverly Project

An architect's rendering of the proposed design of the north-facing facade of  the 8899 Beverly buidling.
An architect’s rendering of the proposed design of the north-facing facade of the 8899 Beverly buidling.

In a three-to-two vote the West Hollywood City Council last night agreed to let the controversial redevelopment of the 8899 Beverly Blvd. building move forward.

Council members John D’Amico and Lauren Meister voted against the project. It was supported by Council members John Duran and John Heilman and Mayor Lindsey Horvath.

The approval is conditioned on the developer’s agreement not to let any of the units be used for short-term rentals or as corporate apartments. They also will be required to hold a public meeting to review with local residents the design for the north-facing side of the building, which faces a neighborhood of single-family homes. The developer must apply for and receive a building permit within 18 months. And the $4.25 million the developer agreed to give to the city in exchange for the exemption to the existing zoning ordinance and General Plan must be used for actual public benefits, not subsidizing the building’s Madeo restaurant while the building is under construction, for which the developer had proposed to spend more than $1 million. Finally, the nine houses that the developer proposes to build on Rosewood Drive behind the building must meet the design standards of the renovated 8899 Beverly building.

The project involves converting the office building between Robertson and Almont into 52 condominiums and 15 apartments for low- and moderate-income people. The proposal has been controversial because it would almost double the size of the existing 90,000-square-foot building and change the use of a building that already doesn’t conform with the city’s General Plan or the zoning for the site. The project also includes construction of nine single-family houses behind the building.

The 10-story building was constructed in 1962, 22 years before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city. Because of its size the building didn’t comply with the city’s General Plan when it was adopted in 2011 or the zoning for the area, which limits commercial buildings in the area to three stories and a smaller mass on the 1.7 acre lot. Thus the developer has to request an exception that in the form of a “special plan” that applies different zoning standards that those used for surrounding buildings.

Councilmember John Heilman acknowledged that the project doesn’t conform with the General Plan or the zoning ordinance, But, Heilman said, “there are a lot of things about this project that enhance the community and benefit the residents.” Because it will be converted from office to residential use, “it actually decreases parking demand, it decreases traffic generation, even with the increased size of the building. It decreases the impact of the building.” Heilman also praised the addition of housing for low-income people.

Heilman, along with Councilmember Duran, said that a smaller alternative doesn’t seem to be financially feasible for the developer. Duran said the condominiums likely would appeal to affluent young professionals moving into West Hollywood. While she voted for the project, Mayor Horvath said she was concerned that the public benefits proposed by the developer might not be what the community really wants, noting that traffic calming and dealing with increased water rates might be issues to focus on.

Councilmember Meister arguing strongly against the project. “We are taking a non-conforming building, and we’re making it even more non-conforming,” she said. Meister also said the project doesn’t meet state requirements that specific exemptions to a city’s General Plan must be consistent with the General Plan. And she said the cash the developer proposes to pay the city for the exemption “is sending the wrong message: ‘You can buy a specific plan’.”

Councilmember D’Amico echoed her concerns. “We now know that for the price of three condos and an election, you can buy a specific plan,” he said, referring to the estimated average value of $1 million for each of the condos and the $3 million Townscape Partners, the developer, is offering as a bonus separate from its proposed subsidy for Madeo and a $1 million contribution to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. “… We know that these people invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the makeup of this Council, ” he said. Townscape and its managing partners were among the largest contributors in recent City Council elections, giving money not only to individual candidates but to independent campaign expenditure committees that supported John Heilman and to an unsuccessful campaign to fight a limit on City Council members terms.

The developer is a partnership between Townscape, a Beverly Hills real estate development firm, and Angelo Gordon & Co. of New York City. They purchased the building and its accompanying parking lot in July 2012, for $38.5 million. Townscape first applied for a special exception to the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinance in December 2012. The project quickly drew opposition from residents of West Hollywood West, a neighborhood composed largely of single-family homes that sits just to the north of the project. Those residents objected to what they saw as potential traffic and parking issues and to Townscape’s plans then to build 13 townhouses and a recreation center with a pool and apartments for low-income people on the parking lot behind the 8899 Beverly Blvd. That parking lot fronts on Rosewood Avenue, where the neighborhood of single-family homes begins, and residents argued that the buildings didn’t conform with the look of the neighborhood.

At its meeting in August 2014, the city’s Planning Commission rejected a revised proposal by Townscape that replaced the townhouses with single-family homes and backed away 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.

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 $1.25 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.

  1. “NEWSFLASH” Jim…..Be careful not to give away too much. This project could have had more AH units (spread throughout the building, as REQUIRED) and more “more-affordable” open market units.

    The City Council held all the cards and they chose to approve an inferior project.

    BREAKING NEWS Jim….When someone moves into a SFH neighborhood that abuts parcels which, since 1984, are zoned for 4 stories…..yes they should expect that rule to remain in place. Doubling 8899 Beverly is like building another 9 story building. That’s not ok……But the City Council chose to ignore that.

    Maybe you should not be so quick to settle.

  2. Ya know, I wish some of the council members and other people who complain about the creation of a ‘poor floor’ would ask the potential residents – i.e. us lower income folks, if that bothers us one little bit, NEWSFLASH:: IT DOESN’T BOTHER US AT ALL – ESPECIALLY IN LIGHT OF THE SIZES AND PROPOSED FINISHES FOR THESE UNITS. iT’S THE RICHEST ‘POOR FLOOR’ I KNOW. I WISH ALL OF THE AFFORDABLE UNITS IN THIS TOWN WERE THAT POOR.

    I don’t think I have ever run into a more unreasonable, entitled group of local residents in my life. To even think that the views from their residences would never change when they live in a dynamic city like West Hollywood – or any lively urban center is nonsense. To my knowledge, the only ways to assure one’s self that their view would never change is to either buy all of the surrounding properties and maintain them or to move to the country and live in the middle of nowhere.

    There have been so many rumors and misconceptions about things like the developers paying people to support the project, which they did not. and the poor door issue which again as a resident who believes that its only fair that if someone pays big bucks for a condo, and I happen to be lucky enough to get in the same building, I understand that to be able to access certain perks like a pool. its fair to pay a reduced fee for the privilege of using those facilities. In this case I think ‘poor door’ is a bit of a stretch.

  3. Million-dollar “affordable housing”. Zoning regulations dismissed by paid-for Council members. Business as usual in corporate playland, shadow-of-its-former-self WeHo.

  4. @Karen O’Keefe……Actually Karen, what the neighbors didn’t want was the “poor door” project-like separation and exclusion from amenities that was previously offered by this developer. Indeed those conditions were removed, under pressure, but it was the developer’s choice (along with approval from those three council members) to now only offer 15 AH units instead of 20 (or the required 20% of floor area) and put all of them on the same floor instead of a more equitable spread throughout the building. (as required)

    The city paid $7,000,000 cash (from parking fees) for the Walgreen’s site. If that property ends up with an AH component, I hope it does, don’t you think that city can come up with another $1,500,000 (the price paid for council to look the other way) for carpeting and door knobs?

    Take a look at 8899 Beverly now…..it’s a REALLY BIG building. The council had the rare discretionary choice of not allowing 8899 to get bigger. By choosing to not allow for an expansion, we’d still have 20 (or more AH units) and influenced 52, or more, smaller open market condos at a price that more people can afford. The kind of people that don’t qualify for AH units but are priced out of the $1,100,000 plus condo market. Don’t you want to consider those people too?

    I think we both want the same things, but I guess I’m more disappointed than you about what our city settled for…..we could have done better.

    BTW, there’s a place in this world, and in our city, for single family homes. Nothing wrong with that.

  5. What the three did was tote the water for the really big Weho money and that ain’t those of us who live here!

  6. Hi Manny,

    The percent I was referring to was the percent of homes, not square feet — though I did get it off by 1%. Fifteen units is just over 24% of 62 units. The article itself says $2 million had to be given to the affordable housing trust. Did it get it wrong?

    It also shows that the Council required an increase in the public benefits from $3.5 million to $4.25 million.

    I’m supporting more affordable housing in general — though yes, sooner is better — and $2 million and 15 units (making up 24% of all units) is very significant. The city is buying the property that was going to be Walgreens on Santa Monica. Perhaps that $2 million could go towards affordable housing there — and perhaps it could be even sooner.

    It’s strange to me to see so many people simultaneously insist on things that drive up costs and then claim they want them to be smaller and less expensive. If neighbors want single family homes only on Robertson, and an architectural gem, it’s going to cost more. Rehabbing old buildings also costs more. As does LEED. As I understand it, the initial proposal had 20% of sq feet as affordable (see the staff report) but neighbors on Robertson objected to having multiple family housing. I believe the proposal was at 12 units at one point, but the city insisted it be increased.

  7. @Karen O’Keef….I’m surprised at you. In the past you’ve been so much better informed on these pages.

    What the three Council Members that you’re championing did is give the developer the privilege (it was not their right) to add 82,000sf to a building so that they can sell $75,000,000 (conservative retail price) worth of ultra-luxury condominiums. (not that there’s anything wrong with that… “urbanists who fly to New York and Paris for the weekend” need housing too)

    For a price of $1,564,000 (NOT $2,000,000 as you say) those same three Council Members agreed to look the other way and allow the developer to build affordable housing units on only 16% of the gross residential floor area (NOT 25% as you say, and NOT 20% as required) and to allow the units to be CLUSTERED, (another no-no) on the same floor.

    That $1,564,000 of in-lieu fees to the affordable housing fund is not enough money to build the five 760 sf affordable units (somewhere, sometime) that won’t be built at 8899 Beverly Blvd…..Aren’t you proposing that we need affordable housing NOW?

    So, as I said earlier, if the council would not have granted the developer the privilege to build bigger, the city could have influenced the the project to carve out 52 smaller and “more”-affordable open market condominiums along with meeting the FULL requirement of affordable housing units in the existing 89,000 sf building. (maybe with a 10% expansion for retrofitting)

    So, what your favorite three council members did on Monday night is NOT what you’re advocating.

  8. Good for the City Council — or three members of it, at least. We have a severe housing shortage in this region, and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Fifteen units is over 25% of the total and $2 million dollars in the affordable housing trust is extremely important.

    NIMBYist insistence on single family homes and only very short buildings has restricted new housing and drove up housing rates, while contributing to crowding and homelessness. We need more units and we need more modern housing that is accessible to people with disabilities and is safe in earthquakes. It’s basic supply and demand.

    Of course I’d rather every unit was affordable, but I live in reality in a capitalist nation. Someone’s got to pay the bill. I love that our city insisted on concessions that will make our city a better place.

  9. @Chris Sanger…..You use NIMBY with a bad connotation. There is nothing inherently wrong with fairly protecting your backyard….who else will?

    Yes, I know that the two council members you refer to were open to a real useful solution. A solution that the city could be proud of.

    I can only speak for myself (but i’m confident others feel the same way)….there never was, or is, a “total opposition” to anything that can improve, enhance, revitalize and serve the community well.

  10. Manny – I respect your input here. Question – do you think there is a chance in the world that the two NIMBYite members living nearby were open to this, or that (particularly Meister’s case) total opposition was likely?

  11. I am disgusted that they let this pass, with a poor floor, when they objected so strongly in the past to a poor door. This is DISGUSTING! I think we all know who the Republcans are on our Council.

  12. Meister will vote against anything that will effect West Hollywood West negatively in any way, whether it be the view, traffic, ANYTHING. She lives there. She has no objectivity.

  13. The unique circumstances around this land buy and it’s potential use was an opportunity for the Council and the City to promote and co-create a development that fits well into our city’s core values.

    Due to the zone change request, the city held all the cards (rare)….Here’s a couple of things the city could have insisted on and developed:

    (1) Don’t approve the massive doubling expansion of a building that is already too big and non-conforming to allow for $1,750,000 plus “luxury” condos and a huge ultra expensive ($10,000,000???) full floor penthouse.

    ….Instead, the city could have worked with the developer to revitalize, reuse and redevelop the existing elegant mid-century building to carve out “more-afforable” 900 sf open market condominiums along with 20% (not the 16%) affordable units.

    (2) Don’t build a pool, (that nobody will use) in the middle of the Rosewood Ave residential neighborhood.

    ….Instead add 3 more open market detached SFHs on that footprint.

    (3) Take all the monies offered as a “public benefit” put it in the bank and discuss later.

    The Council squandered a very rare opportunity.

  14. A poor floor or a poor door…really is there any difference? And to think that people who will live on this floor are somehow “lesser” is simply wrong. There are a lot of very good people who don’t have six figure incomes who can and do contribute to West Hollywood. West Hollywood has had (maybe still does) the opportunity to show a different way of housing development. Not everything has to be million dollar condos or excessive rents. Good examples are in other cities. Of course, those kind of projects may not line the pockets quite as much.

    It’s certainly not hard to connect the dots between the money paid for the elections and this approval. There must be some reason $400,000 is spent for a job that only pays $600 a month.

  15. In what parallel universe is it the City Council’s job to reduce the potential sale price of condo units? Seriously?

    Again, please go to Weho.org and watch the council debate on this. The opponents made weak arguments.

  16. @ Chris Sanger: Do those who came out to support this project really think they are going to be able to afford these units? This is a luxury project and I assure you these units will start at $1,750,000.

    The only good things about this development are the design’s south (Beverly Blvd) elevation and the 15 affordable units. Still, as Lauren Meister pointed out, Townscape is creating a “poor floor” as all the affordable units will be clustered on the second floor and will not have balconies and washer/driers like their neighbors on the floors above. In fact, some of the affordable units are studios and don’t have the required number of bedrooms.

    Lauren Meister’s informed and eloquent remarks at Monday’s council meeting show she had thoroughly done her homework. D’Amico drove the point home. In contrast, Mayor Horvath stumbled badly and her reasoning in support of the project was incoherent. She appeared flustered and embarrassed. John Heilman was only being Heilman, as was Duran. To Duran and Heilman’s concerns that approval was taking too long, so what? Don’t we want to get it right?

    To borrow Richard K’s phrase, the “Townscape Triumvirate” really got it wrong and have set a dangerous precedent. The purpose of the zoning laws is to promote the welfare of the community as a whole. Duran showed his ignorance in stating that a smaller alternative would not be financially feasible for the developer. Townscape knew when they bought this property that the building already exceeded zoning regulations for height and size. It took the risk. As it turns out, it wasn’t much of a gamble as Townscape’s contributions ensured Horvath and Heilman’s seats on the council and their votes on its projects.

    Hopefully, the Townscape Triumvirate will hold their benefactor to contributing to projects that truly benefit the public, not improvements to the Beverly Blvd streetscape in front of its luxury development that will surely allow it to increase the price of its condos.

  17. Councilman Duran in his explanation for approving this 172,000 sf project talked about missing Butterfield’s Restaurant on Sunset Blvd and that he knows lovely people living in the Plaza Towers on Doheny that literally tower over adjacent West Hollywood homes. Councilman Heilman wants to make extra sure that the new condo owners don’t utilize Airbnb. Councilwoman Horvath says she isn’t concerned about the size and wants to make sure the public benefits reflect what the community wants. The adjacent community really wants a smaller building with the same great design. It’s not the councilperson’s burden to worry if a smaller version doesn’t seem to be financially feasible for the developer. The councilperson’s burden is to worry about the residents who are affected by this over scale project. Townscape purchased an already non-conforming building; how did they know in advance they’d be able to change the zoning codes to double its size? Lucky guess.

  18. Fortunately we have three intelligent, reasonable council members who recognize an improvement for a site. I listened to all sides, and on the main complaints, the NIMBY antis failed to make their case. And Meister and her desperate attempts to use the drought argument once again gives away the game about how weak the case it.

    I’m cynical enough about John D’Amico to think had his been the deciding vote he’d have voted the other way. More glory for him to pose as an anti- when his vote was meaningless.

    This project will reduce traffic, bring a more residential feel to Beverly, be aesthetically superior and be an asset to West Hollywood.

  19. Townscape hedged their bets beautifully when they contributed thousands of dollars in the last two city council elections. After last night’s meeting we now know the Townscape triumvirate on our council. The approval of this one development clearly indicates that it’s business as usual for the council until the next election.

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