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.