Planning Commission Approves 3 Projects, Including Controversial One on Flores

West Hollywood’s Planning Commission approved three different residential projects during its Thursday night meeting. With these approvals, nine units of housing will be demolished to make way for 30 new units, for a net gain of 21 residential units to the city.

The most controversial of the three projects was a four-story, 10-unit apartment building set to replace two single-family homes at 511 and 515 Flores Street, just north of Rosewood Avenue. Although the zoning laws for that part of town restrict buildings to a maximum of 35 feet, the developer used state law SB-1818 to add another 10 feet in height by including one unit for a very-low income resident, bringing the building’s height to 45 feet.

Illustration of 511-515 N. Flores St. project. (SPF Architects)
Illustration of 511-515 N. Flores St. project. (Studio Pali Fekete architects)

Residents in the neighborhood cried foul over the 45 feet, saying that it would drastically alter the character of the sleepy street to have such a tall building when most of the surrounding buildings are just two stories tall. “It will be like a flamingo in a sea of mallards,” commented resident Amanda Goodwin.

Residents living at the rear of the 520 N Kings Road three-story apartment building, which is directly behind the 511-515 Flores Street property, were particularly upset, saying the four-story project would deprive them of a view as well as sunlight and privacy in their apartments.

“Forcing dozens of us to lose our view and privacy is inhumane, and I want this project to stop,” said resident Jill Golmant, while resident Todd Kammer said, “getting one unit of inclusionary housing isn’t worth the impact to the neighbors.”

While several of the commissioners were sympathetic to their concerns, Commission John Altschul reminded the residents that “unfortunately, there is no such thing as view protection.” Altschul added that the property owner, Moshe Shemian, was within his right to take advantage of state law and add the extra floor in exchange for having a unit for a very-low-income resident.

Others were upset by the ultra-contemporary design by Culver City-based  Studio Pali Fekete Architects. The design includes brown metal screens that offers a fortress-like appearance around portions of the lower three floors, while the top floor is recessed and painted white. Although the city’s urban designer, Stephanie Reich, called the design “exemplary,” several residents called it “ugly” and out of context with the other buildings on the street.

Commissioner Shelia Lightfoot, who cast the only vote against the project, agreed, saying the building was too massive and bulky for the street and the design did not fit the area. “Neighborhood compatibility always gets the short stick [during deliberations] on the [Planning] Commission,” Lightfoot lamented.

Commissioner Sue Buckner also disliked the façade, saying, “I don’t find it particularly beautiful.” However, Commissioner Roy Huebner, who is an architect, praised it, calling it “so unlike anything else we’ve ever seen,” and speculating that once it is completed, it will be a building that makes people stop to look harder.

829-835 Larrabee Street

The commission unanimously approved a four-story, 13-unit apartment building that will replace a single-family home at 829 Larrabee St., just north of Santa Monica Boulevard, and a two-story, four-unit apartment building at 835 Larrabee.

Illustration of 829-835 N. Larrabee project (Tighe Architecture)
Illustration of 829-835 N. Larrabee project (Tighe Architecture)

The modern design drew praise from the public as well as the commission. Huebner commented that it was “raising the bar of design,” while Commissioner David Aghaei called it “exemplary.” Residents also praised it.

Although Lightfoot also liked the project, calling it a “very nice design,” she questioned why 12 of the 13 units had three bedrooms, but only had parking for two cars per unit. (City zoning laws only require two parking spaces for three-bedroom units).

Attorney Todd Elliott, representing the project, explained that since the building will be close to a transit hub at Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards, that it is the “type of building that is serving the future where not everyone has a car.”

Developer Jason Illoulian, who owns the property under the corporation Larrabee Weho Project, LLC, was pleased the project was approved.

“We’re thrilled that it passed,” Illoulian told WEHOville. “I think that the project is appropriate in scope and it’s something that will enhance the neighborhood. It’s completely in conformance with the zoning code . . . We’re excited that it continues our track records of unanimous yeses.” When asked how many other of his projects had received unanimous approvals, Illoulian only said, “a bunch,” but declined to specify which ones they were.

Rather than having any low-income units, this project will pay an in lieu fee to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

1280 Sweetzer

The commission also unanimously approved a three-story, seven-unit condominium building to replace a duplex at 1280 Sweetzer Ave., just south of Fountain Avenue.

Illustration of 1280 N. Sweetzer Ave. project (Architect Kazanchyan Design)
Illustration of 1280 N. Sweetzer Ave. project (Architect Kazanchyan Design)

The architect, Armen Kazanchyan, explained that the project started out as a four-story, nine-unit building. He displayed a series of drawings showing how the project evolved over a dozen incarnations to become a three-story building.

The project, which is owned by Sergey Kenshikov, asked for a variance to the zoning law to allow it to have a 23-foot front setback from the street, instead of a 29-foot setback. That variance was requested due to the shallow depth of the lot and the fact that most other front setbacks on Sweetzer are just 17 feet. In exchange, a portion of the front yard would be open for public space, while the rest of the front yard would be gated for residents only.

This project has also opted to pay an in lieu fee to the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund rather than have a low-income unit.

  1. Until the zonning laws are reformed nothing will change in the massive overdevelopment in West Hollywood. Forced density for the benefit of developer’s is unstoppable. It doesn’t matter what the residents want or say at any public comment. The answer will be the law says the zoning laws say its legal but thanks for coming and letting us know what you want. So sorry

  2. 829 Larrabee seems the only building with legitimate defign integrity that is also compatible with the location. The Flores project barely rates a C- and there is nothing to recommend any sense of aesthetic. The Sweetzer project is one I have followed at Design Review wherein the developer and architect appeared oblivious to any of the elegant buildings nearly and seemed determined to hang all the appropriate tree ornaments on this structure giving it a c+ at best. Even the former planning commission spokesman tried to artfully put lipstick on it but there was no point. Sadly, in this supposedly highly desirable city, we continue to suffer perfunctory examples of development devoid of charm, elegance or longevity. Perhaps the planning commission could benefit from regular inspirational forums that would actually stimulate and inform them of what’s happening in the world beyond our four corners.

  3. I concur with Woody McBreairty’s POV. No one seems to directing blame where blame lies & that is with the city council members who are the enablers of West Hollywood’s fast & furious over development. Lots of talking around the subject that most needs addressing & that is new “leadership”. Seems we have 2 common sense council members but their voices are drowned out by the other council members, just as the voices of the people are. Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Duran & Heilman have got to go.

  4. I’d like an official number of how much money we have for affordable housing from the “in lieu” fee’s paid to the city by the developers that choose not to include low income units in their new developments. And we should already have a proposal and renderings for this corner for an affordable housing complex. When when we reach the estimated costs…we start building. I still dont think anyone knows where this “in lieu” money goes to. For all we know it could be bonuses for City Council.

  5. Manny, yes I was there and I believe I expressed my dismay about even a temporary parking lot. That property, as per Councilman Hellman’s comments, should be used for affordable housing. It should happen now with no delay.

  6. @anonymous: The house, the dog park and the LAND that Hart Park sits on is NOT owned by the City of West Hollywood. (FYI)

    @Dan Morin: Even though you were at the Crescent Heights and Santa Monica parking lot community meeting, you apparently weren’t listening…..The vacant Crescent Heights and Santa Monica city owned property is being converted into a parking lot TEMPORARILY (!!!), until the long public process of considering what will be it’s best permanent use is achieved.

  7. First, why doesn’t the city revamp the zoning so as what becomes a four story building because of one affordable unit can only become a three story building. So if the current zoning limits height to three stories, said zoning is changed so the property now is limited to two stories.

    Second, in addition to the affordable units, every unit that is removed from the market due to redevelopment must be replaced by a similar unit at the same former rental. So if four units are removed from the market for the new development, four new units must be provided at the same rent in a new twelve unit building.

    I really don’t see how in-lieu fees being used to build new affordable units is a plus. Tenants are being evicted to build these new low income buildings. Do they have first choice when the new building is completed at the same rent. Seems like a “CATCH 22” answer to me.

    Lastly, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I have seen new projects that look awful and in one case at Franklin and Havenhurst a total joke. What I imagine was supposed to be a private court yard in front of each units front doors is instead a eighteen inch space between a gate and the front door. The much older apartment building across the street on Fountain design is far superior to the joke on the south side of the street. On the other hand, a apartment building that went up about two years ago in the twelve hundred block of Kings Rd. utilized three different textures and colors and seems like a asset to the street. But down the street, the never ending construction of a small condo appears to be bland and uninspiring.

  8. The problem our neighborhoods face is a disconnect with our zoning codes and the reality of our streets. Given the fact that we have so many residential buildings that were created decades ago that do not have adequate parking and that commercial employees often need to park on residential streets, it becomes very problematic to squeeze more large scale housing into areas when the new projects are only required to have minimal parking and are often given waivers. Most of our streets can’t accommodate any additional street parking. Having zero guest parking is unacceptable given the state of our streets.

    I agree with the comment that the 20% affordable housing set aside should be mandated to be on site; it should also be for low and very low income people as we have a huge shortage of units for that demographic.

    I would also require new developments to make a hefty contribution toward replacing our ancient water pipes. We are losing more water to leakage than we are conserving, despite our best efforts to save water. The DWP’s slow response to the pipe crisis is an issue of money so if we want to address the problem we need to figure out ways to pay for upgrading our out dated water delivery system.

    The only problem with all of these suggestions is that they would discourage development and that is something the majority of our Council members would abhor.

    (Which always look better than the finished project)

    1. THE FLORES DESIGN: SERIOUSLY …. it looks like a really bad 1970’s reject building design. NOTHING IS ACCEPTABLE.
    >>>> BUT – As I repeatedly discuss, a project that NOBODY on that street is going to be built. BUT AT THE VERY LEAST, with no or nominal changes to the structure, THE FACADE, THE SHELL COVERING THE BUILDING, can be changed. THIS ONE IS SO AWFUL … Make it a “California Spanish Mediterranean Style”(by that, I dont mean the actual descriptive words … but our idea of what a CALIFORNIA interpretation we see everywhere, in LA) It is not ‘in fashion at the moment, but it will come around often, and ALWAYS have a pleasant or non offensive appearance)

    2. GEEZZZ please stop. Larabee is a hodgepodge of everything. Why this super industrial FOR THE SITE. This uber modern is literally so 10years ago. Unless there are future plans to convert it to a jail or prison, it is AWFUL.
    >>> e.g. Look at THE DESMOND very large condo on San Vicente & Cynthia. It is huge, but not offensive in design, and won’t ever be.

    3. SWEETZER CONDO – yawn. That style is officially on the way out, and when done, will lack any new or contemporary look that condo buyers like. feh.



  10. To Jake,

    Yes i am with you on that comment. Current residents of adjacent building are rejecting such development because it is inconvenience to their life style which they are accustomed to. At one point everyone moved into West Hollywood so they can reside in a apartment which was built over single family residence…yet they show up last night to bitch about how their life is ruined due to new development. I could not believe how such hypocrisy can be…shame on those who believes that they are the only ones have rights to be where they are at now. “NYMBISM” not in my backyard-ism was the exact thing that was brought forth last night.

    Also, its such a shame to pretend to be on side of WEHO Community to use last night’s hearing as a platform to announce their campaign to run for council man ( yeah, you Amanda Goodwin ) how do you sleep at night…do you even care for those cause you spoke of ??? You are no less than a developer at blame if you are taking advantage of the situation.

    State laws, federal laws, local municipal codes, which ever it is, the city is going through growing pains as policies will be developed and amended through out time. We all need to wake up from these candy coated false reality thinking that protecting what we have should be only entitled to us only…

  11. I agree with the speculating commissioner: judging by the illustration (“ultra-contemporary” sure is a nice way of putting it!) the Flores St project will indeed be “a building that makes people stop to look harder,” though sadly not in a good way.

    This should warrant a multitude of low and very low income units, not just one.

    Can we please put up replicas of this monstrosity next to each of the yes-voting commissioner’s homes?

  12. While I’m not opposed to progress or building new developments…what bothers me is EVERY SINGLE PROJECT always has some “allowance” or something “in lieu” of to get a building built. That is just wrong. So the first project the ignore zoning laws for only 1 additional low income unit. So the entire structure is 10 feet too tall for that.

    The second project you’re not providing enough parking. Hate to break it to ya…but there is no mass transit. So right now these twelve 3-bedroom apartments will mean 12 additional spots gone on the street. Provided 3 people live in each apartment. But you better watch out. By law I believe 3 people per bedroom are allowed to live there. So you could have 9 people living in each apartment. (Should I remind everyone of the Palm Ave property where its become a party building and sadly someone die here).

    And lastly…again this stupid donation of money ‘In lieu” of providing low income apartments. Where is this money going?!?! What are the plans for it City Council?!?! It seems to be stacking up. This in lieu of should be taken off the books. Each new property MUST include the required 20% law. Period. Make it on the books.

    I can believe all the exceptions our city gives developers to build these hideous looking properties. All are replacing lower rent places and now these 1 bedroom apartments will be above $2000. All the people you’re driving out of the city. Unbelievable.

  13. The irony of the Flores development arguments by those living in the back of the 3 story Bldg on Kings Road is rich – imagine the poor owners of the two Flores single family homes when their 3 story monstrosity was built – imagine their loss of light and especially privacy to their backyards. Total Nimbyism – deny to others their legal right to what you already have.

    As for the City’s Housing Trust Fund, the City does use that money to support affordable housing projects by such non-profit affordable housing developers as the West Hollywood Comminity Housing Corporation – so the money is used for its intended purpose. WHCHC buys lots and builds new housing, so they compete with for profit developers to buy sites. Difference with non-profit is their entire building are for income restricted affordable housing units.

  14. As for the permanently entrenched complaining about their loss of views and sunlight, might I suggest that the sunlight and view arrives when the lightbulb of enlightenment turns on Internally.

  15. So much misinformation here saddled by old grievances that keep getting repeated. If one does not like the results, dig in with the powers that be and craft a solution. The Complaint Department should be permanently closed. A new department should open entitled “Solutions Welcomed”if presented in a knowledgeable and respectful fashion and you will be directed to the individual most likely to facilitate the issue.

  16. Yes, Anonymous, there IS City owned vacant land and that would be at the corner of Santa Monica and Crescent Heights. When the two homes (adjacent to Gelsons) were heading to the chopping block, Councilmember Heilman said that if the City owned that land on Kings Road, the City would certainly make it for available for affordable housing. I reminded Mr. Heilman of his comments at a subsequent Council meeting since there had been discussion of dedicating the vacant land for, of all things, a parking lot. Of course, nothing changed. The destruction continues.

  17. I am a bit concerned about the dollars given to the housing trustfund. Where does it go – there isn’t any vacant property that I know of in the city where a city owned building could be built – although, the land on which Hart Park sits would best be repurposed as affordable housing so that the whole accessibility question can be addressed and the dog park can be replaced for the once planned on dog parks at Plummer Park. Its really a shame that the neighbors adjacent to Plummer Park on Vista – you know who you are – refused to put up with some temporary inconvenience so that local neighbors could have a safe place for their dogs to play.

  18. So in March the voters will probably re-elect the same old PODS (Pals of Developers) & expect different results. That is commonly believed to be the definition of insanity. Many exit polls revealed that folks in the south & mid west voted for Donald Trump because they thought he understood the plight of the poor & working class. Ignorance is not always bliss. If we don’t get rid of Heilman & Duran in March, they will likely ride out the maximum duration of their term limits & by then it will be too late. Come on people, please!

  19. “Forcing dozens of us to lose our view and privacy is inhumane, and I want this project to stop,” said resident Jill Golmant, while resident Todd Kammer said, “getting one unit of inclusionary housing isn’t worth the impact to the neighbors.”

    Translation: ‘we don’t want poor people leaving here’.

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