Planning Commission Review of CEE Expansion Provokes Affordable Housing Debate

Rendering of the Center for Early Education with a newly constructed center building on La Cienega.
Rendering of the Center for Early Education with a newly constructed center building on La Cienega.

West Hollywood’s Planning Commission last night approved a proposal for a major expansion of the Center for Early Education (CEE). Commissioner Sheila Lightfoot cast the only vote against the project, arguing that the expansion would require elimination of nine rent-stabilized apartments.

The project provided a forum for discussion of the city’s need for affordable housing. Cynthia Blatt of UNReD, a group that led the initial opposition to an apartment building on 826 N. Kings Rd., asked the planning commissioners how they could talk about the need for affordable housing and support a project that would eliminate nine rent-stabilized units. Lightfoot questioned a consultant’s study that said West Hollywood has an 8.4 percent vacancy rate, meaning there are 2,111 unoccupied housing units in in the city. She noted that city planners believe the vacancy rate actually might be half that when one takes into account that some housing units are only occupied seasonally by their renters or owners. Others questioned why CEE wasn’t required to pay an “in lieu” fee too the city’s housing trust fund. An “in lieu” fee is a cash payment that a housing developer can make to the city instead of adding affordable housing units to a development, which is requirement by city law. The CEE project is not a residential development.

Lightfoot also questioned the commission’s willingness to create a special zone incorporating all of the CEE property, which currently spans two zoning districts. The area occupied by the nearby Rosewood Elementary School currently is zoned for public facilities and the lot at 523 North Alfred occupied by a house and apartment building are zoning for medium-density residential uses. By creating a “special zone,” the commission lets CEE avoid some of the requirements of those two individual zones. “Will this set a precedent for every school in West Hollywood that would want to expand?” Lightfoot asked.

CEE is a private elementary school serving 535 students in preschool through sixth grade. It occupies 1.58 acres on the southeast side of La Cienega Avenue and is bordered on the north by Melrose Avenue and Clinton Street and the west by Alfred Street. The site currently has three school buildings, a central courtyard, three ground-level play yards and underground parking.

The plan approved last night is to build 65,000-square-feet of new school buildings, which will require the demolition of two existing school buildings, some nearby shops and the nine-unit apartment building. CEE will take over a nearby house at 523 N. Alfred St. and use it to house a daycare for its employees’ children. The project means CEE will occupy a total of 106,000 square feet on 2.32 acres. Among its most notable features is a wall along La Cienega on which art will be projected.

The project site is in two zoning districts, with the area occupied by Rosewood Elementary School zoned for public facilities and the lot at 523 North Alfred occupied by a single-family house and zoned for medium density residential buildings. The Planning Commission agreed last night to create a special zone incorporating all of the CEE Property.

Architect's rendering of project for 1159 Formosa Ave.
Rendering of 1159 Formosa Ave. project

While the project was opposed by Blatt and several nearby store owners (who worried about the impact of construction on their business), it drew support from a number of local residents who had attended CEE or whose children now attend the school.

The Planning Commission also approved a proposal to demolish a duplex at 1159 Formosa Ave. near Lexington and replace it with a two-story, five-unit townhouse building.

The new units will be market rate. The developer, 1159 Formosa LLC, made an “in lieu” payment to the city’s housing trust fund rather than add affordable housing that would otherwise be required by the city. 1159 Formosa LLC is associated with Ilan Kenig, whose FMB Group includes several real estate development entities.

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James 'Jim' Chud
James 'Jim' Chud
4 years ago

i wasn’t at the commission meetings invoving this project, which I regret. Unfortunately, I have been dealingwith the medical issues that frequently put us old folks with AIDS in the hospital, as I am now. I am a bit mystified by the reduction of rent controlled units, etc. that happened in order to approve this expansion. I understand that parental concerns become a factor that is increasingly influencing decisions as our city’s population becomes more diverse. I trust and hope that this is not a movement to decrease the affordability of Weho in general, and I will remain vigilant in… Read more »

j simmons
j simmons
4 years ago

PROOF OF MY OTHER COMMENT. THE CITY IS CUTTING THE NUMBER OF LOW INCOME RENTAL UNITS IN WEST HOLLYWOOD THAT ARE CURRENTLY OCCUPIED BY LOW INCOME WEST HOLLYWOOD RESIDENTS. THESE UNITS THE CITY IS SET ON GETTING RID OF IS NOT “DUE TO BAD LANDLORDS” OR “McMANSIONS” or NO CONTROL OVER “EVIL” PROPERTY OWNERS …. LOOK! THE CITY OF WEST HOLLYWOOD IS INTENTIONALLY CUTTING THE NUMBER OF LOW INCOME UNITS IN OUR CITY. WORSE ARE THE CURRENT RESIDENTS WHO VOTED THEM IN ON THE PROMISE OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING BEING EVICTED WHEN THE UNITS GO AND WILL HAVE NOWHERE IN WEHO… Read more »

Lynn
Lynn
4 years ago

Mr. Rosen, your previous comment Excrptions, exceptions exceptions appeared to be an emotional comment wherein you alluded to the commissions or possibly the staff’s disregard for rules, codes, general and specific plans. Care to be specific? And further how do you presume we might have a difference of opinion about the value of one’s home etc.?

JAMES ROSEN
4 years ago

Lynn,
I am well informed thank you, and take the time to attend city council and planning commission meetings regularly, perhaps we have seen each other there on different sides of the aisle.
We have a fundamental difference of opinion on the value of ones home and by what means one should be forced to leave it.
Commissioner Lightfoot did not stray away from anything as you say but intelligently attempted to introduce the significant issues at hand.

Lynn
Lynn
4 years ago

Josef, Alison & James Rosen: The opportunity is available for you all to learn about the facts of these projects, the planning process and how you might contribute in a meaningful manner. It takes a bit of time and dedication and is far more effective than sitting on the sidelines complaining. The CEE enterprise is an unusual and definitive project and will contribute to the community in multiple ways. The difference in attitude of the Spot business owner and the neighboring business owners speaks for itself. Change always presents opportunity, these projects are not being conceived in the abstract. Ms.… Read more »

JOE l
JOE l
4 years ago

Good for the neighborhood! Yay planning commission!

JAMES ROSEN
4 years ago

Exceptions, Exceptions, Exceptions, why have rules,codes general or specific plans why not just let this be the wild wild west that it is. Everyman with money for himself……

Alison
Alison
4 years ago

Does our Planning Commission ever turn down projects? While the City Council talks about protecting our rent stabilized units, the Planning Commission approves project after project that will tear down said units. In the end, the City Council ends up approving most of them also. Talking out both sides of their mouths.

Josef
Josef
4 years ago

Affordable units are being segregated little by little. WeHo is slowly ghettoizing those innthe lower end of the economy spectrum (and in more cases, completely out of the city). After 20+ years as a WeHo resident, I am getting sickened by the direction this city is taking. Saddens me what my city is becoming.