Planning Commission Approves Norton Avenue Project

8017-8029 Norton Ave. project (Levin-Morris Architects)
8017-8029 Norton Ave. project (Levin-Morris Architects)

The West Hollywood Planning Commission last night approved construction of a five-story, 34-unit building on Norton Avenue that will replace 21 apartments where rent increases are governed by the city’s rent stabilization law.

The Commission’s vote came after a hearing that brought complaints by neighbors of the project and by local anti-development activists. Last night’s meeting showed a shift in the position of some activists, such as Cynthia Blatt, founder of UNRED, an organization that campaigned to block construction of a 25-unit building at 826 N. Kings Rd. That project also was approved by the Planning Commission.

Blatt and others have argued in the past that the city doesn’t need more housing for low- and moderate-income people and that such housing should be built elsewhere — an unpopular position in a city founded by advocates for rent control and affordable housing. Among other things, the anti-development activists have cited the fact that the city has surpassed the state Regional Housing Needs Assessment program’s requirement that West Hollywood provide 77 units for people whose incomes range from very low to slightly above the moderate level.

But during the discussion of the Norton Avenue project, anti-development activists argued that the project would eliminate 21 rent-stabilized housing units and replace them with five affordable housing units. Blatt also argued that the city shouldn’t allow developers to build larger buildings in exchange for providing affordable housing in a project. Under city law, 20 percent of the housing units in a building of 10 or more units must be set aside for low- to moderate-income people. In exchange, the developer has the opportunity to request exceptions to various zoning restrictions on the size or height of a project. Blatt told the Planning Commission last night that the city instead should require developers to make a payment into a fund the city can use to pay for construction of housing for low- and moderate-income people.

Another argument made against the project was that it would replace rentable housing units with expensive condos. “We are just displacing the midle class and putting in million dollar condos,” said Stephanie Harker, an Eastside resident. “The city ws founded on economic survival, what happened to that?”

Nearby residents raised objections ranging from the height of the building to the possibility that it might block their views.

The proposed project, which straddles three lots at 8029 – 8031 Norton Ave. between Crescent Heights and North Laurel, is developed by Craig Berberin’s Empire Property Group. A Berbian representative said that the project would likely consist or rented apartments and not condominiums. Mark Lehman, a lawyer representing Empire, contested claims that 21 rent-stabilized housing units will be replaced with a project that offers only five affordable housing units.

For one thing, he and other supporters of the project noted that rent-stabilized and affordable housing units are not interchangeable. Rent-stabilized units are those where the landlord cannot increase the annual rent beyond a percentage set each year by the city’s Rent Stabilization Committee. When a rent-stablized apartment is vacated, the landlord can raise the rent to the market level. Affordable housing units are those whose rent or purchase price is set according to the tenants’ income level. A representative of the developer also said that some of the existing housing units on the Norton lots are dilapidated and unoccupied.

In their staff report, members of the city’s Community Development Department and Stephanie Reich, the city’s urban designer, noted that the architect for the project had made significant changes from an earlier proposal. Among those changes was change in the facade that made the building look less bulky. The street-facing facade is only three stories high, with the fourth and fifth stories set back on the building.


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Rob Bergstein
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Rob Bergstein

State law–the Ellis Act, which supersedes City law, allows a landlord to permanently go out of the rental business & the City has no say over that. And while the City may be losing those 25 units of rent stabilized units, again, because of State law (Costa Hawkins), when any rent stabilized unit in West Hollywood (anything build before 1978, I believe), becomes voluntarily vacated, the landlord can raise the rent to whatever they want. With this new project, the City has a net gain of 5 permanent affordable units–they can never to go market rate & they can never… Read more »

forrestsfsf
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forrestsfsf

For the record, landlords across this entire country let three units purposefully become run down and dilipitated so they will eventually be rip to be torn down and developed, no one and I mean no one gives a damn about the former middle class

SaveWeho
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SaveWeho

Yes…Moderate Income is open. But the majority of “low-income” folks don’t qualify because one has to make at LEAST $46,155 and goes up to $57,693. This is a silly category because you can find rent on this salary. And when was the last time you saw a building that was only accepting middle income? I never have. As for the low income…those lists have been closed a long time. Even 5 years is very lengthy not to even be put on a waiting list. Still no one answers the question as to who gets these “low income” apartments when there… Read more »

Jim Chud
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Jim Chud

Wow, there are so many reprehensible views and misconceptions expressed here – I choose not to go at them one by one as I would be here all day. First, the waiting list has not been closed forever. As a matter of fact, when the Sierra Bonita building was first occupied 5 yrs ago, they started over with a lottery on the low and very low income list. I may be mistaken, but I believe that I am correct in saying that the middle income list has been and is open now. Do you see the homeless people all over… Read more »

Manny
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Manny

BC, what are you saying?!!!

BC
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BC

The consequences of rent control are coming home to roost in West Hollywood, one unimaginative project at a time.

Lynn Russell
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Lynn Russell

If Ms. Blatt’s has time on her hands, perhaps she could help crack the nut containing the intersection between affordable housing, rent stabilization, code compliance and the general loss of housing AND residents who don’t have much of a life preserver. Surely her experience in housing could be useful to the city folks heading up those departments. More than endless arguments we need verifiable steps toward a solution on a dedicated time line.

Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

To say that this project is a travesty is an insult to actual travesties.

Lynn Russell
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Lynn Russell

Last night it was easy to see how capricious, arbitrary, uninformed and inconsistent the Planning Commission appeared to be. The commissioners believed the Norton Project was a by right development with all the correct boxes checked. Unfortunate they were ignorant and/or oblivious to the elephant in the room, a concept which has been adequately addressed by the code. It seemed a love fest composed of posturing commissioners, an ego driven developer devoid sensitivity and an architect under heel who was recently thrown on to he rocks when one of his other projects was denied by the commission in just such… Read more »

SaveWeho
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SaveWeho

I dont understand the process for affordable housing. So all these new apts. will rent for at least $2000+. So we just displaced 21 people. The 5 affordable housing units I’m guessing will be subsidized by the city like Section 8 and offered only through the “waiting list” which has been closed forever. Or does the management company for this new building set the rates for what is affordable and they get to pick whom to live in the lucky 5 units?

Woody McBreairty
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Woody McBreairty

Not even built yet but this building looks very familiar. Must be because I’ve seen so many around town exactly like it. Legoland here we come

Chris Sanger
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Chris Sanger

I don’t have a position on this project, but thanks for exposing the hypocricy on the UN-RED NIMBY activists.