The West Hollywood City Council last night endorsed a revised proposal for a two-story building on Melrose Avenue at Norwich under the condition the developer take extra steps to make it environmentally friendly and set aside money to pay for measures to reduce any negative impact it might have on traffic
The building, at 8650 Melrose Ave., is a project of BMB Investments, a company owned by Benjamin Soleimani. The Planning Commission in 2011 approved a one-story building with 9,656 square feet for the site. It also agreed to let BMB reduce the number of parking spaces by half, reasoning that there are additional spaces nearby in a city parking structure on San Vicente Boulevard.
But in August 2013, BMB asked the city to include the 8650 Melrose property in the Avenues of Art and Design overlay zone, which had been created the year before. By adding that lot to the overlay zone, which is intended to encompass the West Hollywood Design District, the city would let the builder take advantage of exceptions to the existing zoning ordinance so that it could add a second story to the building and increase its size in proportion to the size of its lot.
The WeHo Planning Commission rejected BMB’s first revision to its original plan after hearing homeowners on Norwich express concerns about the project’s impact on traffic in the neighborhood and on the character of the neighborhood. More than 60 nearby residents signed a petition asking the Council to deny the project.
The plan presented to the Council last night attempted to address the traffic concerns by eliminating a proposed restaurant, reducing the need for parking by 17 spaces. The revised plan also includes a roof over the driveway behind the building and changed the south- and west-facing walls to green walls to soften their visual impact on the houses nearby. The city’s Community Development Department recommended the Council approve the project.
Councilmember John D’Amico pushed for more efforts to make the project environmentally sound. D’Amico argued that if the developer is going to increase the size of the building by 50 percent he should exceed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. LEED is a set of rating systems for the design, construction and and maintenance of environmentally conscious buildings. The developer, D’Amico said, could do that be adding photo voltaic cells to the roof of the building to generate energy. D’Amico said the project currently has a very low score in the city’s ranking of environmentally conscious design.
Councilmember John Heilman supported the idea of improving the project’s environmental impact. Heilman also suggested that city staffers do a study of the project’s impact on traffic after it is built. He recommended that BMB Investments be required to set aside money that would be spent to ameliorate any negative impacts the study finds.
Councilmember Lauren Meister strongly opposed the project. She noted that the Planning Commission had rejected it, arguing that it didn’t meet sufficient standards to qualify for special treatment in the Avenues overlay zone. Meister also objected to approving the project before the city completes a proposed zoning plan for Melrose Avenue. Meister said thought the analysis of the project’s impact on local traffic wasn’t in-depth.
The measure approved by the Council would have the developer return with proposals for improving the energy efficiency and environmental impact of the building with the goal of reaching a gold or silver LEED standard. It also would require the developer to set aside funds to mitigate any traffic problems the building might cause. Heilman asked that BMB consider ways to improve the project’s impact on Norwich Avenue, which is where single-family homes are located. The Council also agreed that a proposal by residents for constructing a cul de sac, which would make it more difficult for drivers on Melrose to use Norwich as a cut through, be studied.
The proposal passed in a four to one vote, with Meister voting no.