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.
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.
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.
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.
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.