The City of West Hollywood has withdrawn its opposition to the controversial 8150 Sunset Blvd. high-rise retail and residential project after reaching an agreement with Townscape Partners, the project’s developers. Located in Los Angeles on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards, the 8150 project borders West Hollywood and raised concerns due to its height, massing, traffic and sewer impacts.
The withdrawal of the West Hollywood appeal, considered the strongest of five appeals against the project, helped pave the way for the Los Angeles City Council’s five-member Planning and Land Use Management Committee to deny the other four appeals and approve the project on Tuesday. The project now moves to the full 15-member Los Angeles City Council for final approval, possibly as early as next week. Meanwhile, the Land Use committee delayed consideration of granting historic cultural monument status to the 66-year-old Lytton Savings building on the 8150 Sunset site until late November.
West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, Community Development Director Stephanie DeWolfe and attorney Beth Collins-Burgard, who represented West Hollywood on this appeal, worked out a handshake agreement with Townscape in the minutes before the Land Use committee heard the 8150 project. Under the terms of the deal, the height of development’s tallest building, once proposed for 234 feet, will be reduced to 178 feet as measured from the lowest point on sloping site. The top floor of that building will have a 10-foot setback on its southern side (which faces West Hollywood) so that the building will appear less tall, and mechanical equipment such as air conditioning compressors will be moved away from the WeHo border.
Additionally, Townscape will give West Hollywood $2 million for traffic improvements. Meister indicated to WEHOville that the city plans to erect bollards at the city’s border along Havenhurst Drive (on the western side of the site) to create a cul-de-sac, similar to the cul-de-sac on Westmount Drive just above the Trader Joes grocery store. That cul-de-sac will prevent traffic leaving the 8150 Sunset project from turning left onto Havenhurst, thus preserving the residential street and thwarting Havenhurst from being used as a cut through street to Fountain Avenue. Townscape will also give the city more than $500,000 for sewer improvements, since the project will connect to West Hollywood’s sewers.
The West Hollywood City Council must still approve this agreement, but Meister reported that the council had discussed what they wanted during a closed session and authorized her and DeWolfe to negotiate it.
“There were certain conditions that we wanted to lock in, that we felt were very important if this project was going to happen, and that was the money for the cul-de-sac and the sewer and reducing the height as much as we thought that would be possible,” Meister told WEHOville.
Meanwhile, staffers for Los Angeles 4th District Councilman David Ryu, who represents the area in which the 8150 Sunset project sits, also negotiated modifications to the project after Ryu wrote a letter demanding changes to the project. When new developments are considered by the L.A. City Council, the council members usually defer to the wishes of their colleague who represents the area, so Townscape, which was initially resistant to changes, was apparently willing to make concessions to get the project approved.
The number of residential units will be 229, down from 249. Twenty-six of those units will be for very-low income residents and 12 will be “work force” units priced for more moderate income workers. The number of commercial parking spaces was increased per Ryu’s request to 494. The sidewalk along Sunset Boulevard will be widened to 15 feet and Townscape will also give Los Angeles $2 million for traffic improvements.
The project’s 65,000 square feet of commercial use remains unchanged. Plans call for a 25,000 square foot supermarket, a 5,000 square foot bank, 12,000 square feet of retail space and 23,000 square feet of restaurant space. The project, with curved edges and odd angles, is by celebrated architect Frank Gehry, the man who designed the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Speaking of the modifications, representatives for Ryu told the committee, “We agree with the modifications. We look forward to continued dialogue with our community as well as the appellants as this moves forward.”
In a statement, Townscape partner Tyler Siegel, said, “These modifications will benefit the community, while ensuring that Frank Gehry’s terrific design provides world-class residences as well as new shopping and eating destinations for our city.”
The 87-year-old Gehry testified before the committee that the site would be “a great entry piece to the Sunset Strip.” Gehry said he agreed to design the project because Townscape shared his values of creating something that would be “special,” have “real architecture” and be “a proud part of the community.”
A standing-room-only crowd filled the L.A. City Council chamber. During over two hours of public comment, many people wearing “Yes 8150 Sunset” stickers, which were provided by Townscape, spoke in favor of the project citing the jobs it would provide and the outstanding architecture. An equal number spoke against it, commenting about the increased traffic congestion and the impact to the neighborhood.
By 7:30 p.m. when public comment was completed, only three of the five committee members were still present (councilmembers Mitch Englander and Marqueece Harris-Dawson both left without explanation during the hearing). There was minimal discussion among the three, who unanimously voted to deny the appeals and approve the project.
“It would be nice if we could still live in the neighborhood that we grew up in, but that does not exist anywhere that I know of in the city,” L.A. Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who serves on the Land Use committee, told the audience. “The fact of the matter is we have a housing crisis, an affordability crisis and a homeless crisis. We have to respond to that. Every single elected [official] in each of the 15 [council] districts has a duty and an obligation to respond to that. So, that’s what this is.”
Councilmember Curren Price questioned whether it was appropriate to approve the project before considering whether to give historic cultural monument status to the Lytton Savings and Loan building located on the northwest corner of the 8150 property. However, city staffers reported that “the historic hearing does not have any bearing on the approval of the project.”
In mid-September the L.A. Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously agreed to grant the landmark status to the Lytton Savings building, designed by noted Southern California architect Kurt Meyer. Now a Chase Bank, the building with its zig-zag folded plate roof, glass walls and interior art work offered a radical architectural departure from traditional bank building when it opened in 1960.
The full L.A. City Council must approve the landmark status before it becomes official. If landmark status is granted, the Lytton Savings building can still be demolished, but there would be several extra legal steps involved before the wrecking ball could hit the building.
Members of Friends of Lytton Savings, the group which petitioned for the building’s landmark status, reported that Townscape Partners indicated they were open to the idea of moving the building. However, a spokesperson for Townscape would not confirm that.
Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the L.A. Conservancy preservation group, reported that concrete buildings as large as the Lytton building would be especially difficult to move. Similarly, it is not clear where Townscape could move the building to.
“There’s two preservation alternatives on the table that have been deemed viable and meet the project objectives,” Fine told WEHOville. “Why is that not being discussed? Why is the city of Los Angeles ignoring that path forward that allows preservation and new development to happen at the same time? Personal preferences should not override state law or the heritage of Los Angeles.”
Gehry seemed uninterested in adapting his designs to be compatible with the mid-century modern Lytton Savings building. Gehry explained to the committee that the construction crane needed to erect the project’s two towers had to be placed in the location of the Lytton building.
“Unfortunately, the bank building is in a precarious position to enable craning a proper project on the site,” Gehry said.
West Hollywood resident Rory Barish, who spearheaded the Save Sunset Blvd. group to oppose the project, believes the committee was blinded by Gehry’s status as a world-renowned architect.
“They’re viewing Gehry as a god. That’s why he was here today,” said Barish, who lives on Havenhurst adjacent to the project. “That’s why Townscape hired him, to help get this approved.”
After the hearing, Steven Luftman, who helped found the Friends of Lytton Savings group, commented to WEHOville, “This could be an amazing opportunity to have two of the most significant architects of Los Angeles together in one project. I don’t know what it is that’s keeping it from happening. I find it terribly sad that one architect would want to erase another’s work.”