8555 Santa Monica Project Gets Reluctant Endorsement from Design Committee

8555 Santa Monica Blvd.
8555 Santa Monica Blvd. (DFH Architects)

A large retail-residential project beside the Ramada Inn in Boystown received reluctant approval Thursday during the Design Review subcommittee meeting of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission.

The 8555 Santa Monica Blvd. project, which covers a one-acre lot from the east side of the Ramada Inn to West Knoll Drive plus three lots on West Knoll, will be five stories tall with 34,000 square feet of commercial space. It will have 12 “live-work” units, designed for people who work from home, and 97 residential units, 22 of which will be set aside for moderate- and low-income residents.

Since the project was last critiqued by the three-member Design Review team in January 2015, it has expanded thanks to the purchase of two more single-family homes immediately behind it on West Knoll Drive. While the portion on Santa Monica Boulevard will be five stories, the area fronting West Knoll Drive will only be four stories thanks to the sloping site being higher along West Knoll. Additionally, the top floor of the building will be recessed to reduce the appearance of height.

Even though the height of the building is only 55 feet along Santa Monica Boulevard (the maximum allowed in that area for developments that include “affordable units” for lower income residents), it still rises approximately 15 feet above the dome of the Ramada Inn next door.

Commission John Altschul noted the building was completely within the requirements of the city’s zoning code, but commented on the out-of-scale size of the development compared to its surroundings. He called the overall massing of the building “shocking,” adding that the portion along West Knoll “takes over” the sleepy street.

Calling the overall design “bold” and “attractive,” Altschul also said it looked like a combination of “Park La Brea and the Coliseum.”

The building will feature painted corrugated metal accents. Renderings of the building show the corrugated metal painted a key lime green, but Commissioner David Aghaei suggested they go with a darker green instead.

A revised Environmental Impact Report (EIR), necessary because of the addition of the two lots on West Knoll, is due soon. The project next goes to the full Planning Commission for approval.

The project is designed by the Santa Monica-based DFH Architects and developed by Soto Capital LP, one of several companies owned Behnam Soroudi, who has been a major donor in past election campaigns of four of the five current West Hollywood City Council members.

The Lot Courtyard building (Studio One Eleven)
The Lot Courtyard building (Studio One Eleven)

The Lot Courtyard Building

The subcommittee also gave its approval to a six-story office building planned for The Lot movie studio on the southwest corner of Formosa Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

The 102,000 square-foot building will replace the commissary in the center of the campus and will be known as the “Courtyard Building.” It sits immediately west of the six-story Formosa South building, which opened about two years ago and serves as the headquarters for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) cable channel.

The Courtyard Building’s modern design will complement the modern design of the adjacent Formosa South building. The first floor, which will have a commissary with outdoor seating area, will be recessed with floors 2 to 4 hovering above it. Architect Alan Pullman of Long Beach’s Studio One Eleven, explained those four stories will match the height of the surrounding stound stages, but floors 5 and 6 will be twisted on a slight angle to give it an unusual appearance. Those angled top two floors will be a nod to the Formosa South building’s top floor corner office (Oprah Winfrey’s office), which juts out from the rest of the building.

Commissioner Roy Huebner, in his last Design Review meeting before resigning from Planning Commission, praised the design, saying it made a “strong statement.” Altschul called it “powerful and stunning.”
Since the City Council approved expansion plans for The Lot in April 2014, the Courtyard Building needs no further city hearings. Owned by the CIM Group, it can proceed with submission of construction documents.

1221 N. Detroit St. (TCS architects)
1221 N. Detroit St. (TCS architects)

Three Condo Buildings

The subcommittee also critiqued three different condominium buildings. A three-story, five-unit, townhouse building at 1221 N. Detroit St., near Lexington Avenue, replacing a single-family home, will have a contemporary design. Similarly, a three-story, five-unit, townhouse building just down the street at 1141 N. Detroit, north of Santa Monica Boulevard, also replacing a single-family home, will also have a contemporary design. The commissioners liked both designs and offered minor suggestions for improvement. Both are designed by Los Angeles-based TCS architects and developed by FMB Development Inc., a residential development company headed by Ilan Kenig. FMB also developed condominium projects at 950 Ogden Dr. and 1011 Ogden Dr. in West Hollywood.

Meanwhile, a three-story, five-unit, townhouse-style building at 1048 Curson Ave., just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, replacing a single-family home, will have an industrial design. The commissioners liked the overall design but gave suggestions for lessening the building’s excessively tall appearance. Designed by the Los Angeles-based Neiman Group, it is owned by Pacific Edge Real Estate, a retail and residential development company headed by Lawrence Lazar, which has many projects in the Los Angeles area.

1048 Curson Ave. (Neiman Group)
1048 Curson Ave. (Neiman Group)
1141 N. Detroit St. (TCS architects)
1141 N. Detroit St. (TCS architects)

  1. SSDD – The Thing, as I hope it becomes known on Santa Monica with genuine painted corrugated metal panels that I assume can be repainted to whatever color is ‘this year’s color on the runways of Paris and New York, is so dated looking, it’s almost funny. There is a large apartment development in Fremont, CA – up north, that was built in the early 80’s that is almost a dead ringer for that one – only there were 415 units. All of these maxi-buildings landing on Santa Monica just make me laugh – the thought that West Hollywood has anything like a development or master plan is absurd – or it’s just not being adhered to in so many places – why pretend to have one. Master plans are supposed to have an eye towards livability and reasonable traffic loading.

    One of my college room mates, a principal at a city planning consulting firm that has jobs all over the world – he’s doing a lot of work in the rapidly growing cities of Eastern Africa now, because they have the wisdom to at least try to avoid the mistakes of other places, and really have the utilities (Mass Transit is a utility in this scenario) to have livable cities for the visible future. He came to visit, and when we were planted on Santa Monica – for quite a while, he noticed the giant new apartment complexes and the many construction barriers indicating that even more were coming, he said, “I assume that there is tunneling under Santa Monica too for your subways, right?” I looked at him – and we both cracked up.

    Sure, density in a city like New York or Chicago works, and there is hope for Downtown LA, but West Hollywood is just building itself into the next ‘Co-op City’. Except that Co-op City has 10 lanes in each direction everywhere and buses and trains, and room. We don’t. Those 5 unit townhome things that are proliferating in every empty or formerly single family lot are like the McMansions — same floor plans, in any motif you might desire – modern? – sure, Cape Cod? Sure, Spanish Mission Facade ? Sure – but they are going to be like the older multi-unit buildings that instead of having 5 units – have 12 smaller ones from the 60s that look like hell now. Parking and traffic are terrible in West Hollywood. Period. We already have so much more tax revenue of many kinds than A. Our city council can handle properly, B. Have any right to be handling C. Than we really need. How about rightsizing after these council members attached at the pockets of the developers term out. Let’s ban all campaign donations by developers or anyone who is donating someone else’s money to skirt our campaign regs. How much money do these people need already. Greed Greed Greed – its at the root of all of this nonsense.

    To Mark, who uses the NIMBY moniker, I hate nimby too – but this is not nimby its ‘if you are going to do something, and you claim to want to keep some sense of livability, then at least do it correctly. Frankly, I don’t care where stuff is happening – some of the things like 8899 aren’t going in to a place where traffic all day longs is at a standstill, Anything on Santa Monica is.

  2. Get it built. If people can not deal with living in a developing city, let them move. Tired of hearing all of these NIMBYs b!tching.

  3. The urban planning of this building is really weak.

    It’s not very neighborhood friendly.

    The subterranean parking plan is horrendous.

    The exterior is a bland interpretation of other more robust “contemporary” designs. It will be a chopped up, hulking mass.

    The Planning Department seems to have bent lots of rules to make it happen.

    How did this really poorly planned, weak architecture get approved at the Design Review stage? Much less proceed as far as it has?

  4. The 8555 Santa Monica Blvd is already stale, dated and out of context. Furthermore it was a rip off(of which there are numerous examples) of the fine work of the late S. Kanner. A residential example of his earlier concept can be found on Veterans adjacent to UCLA.

    The compatibility is 0 as its creep up the hill attempts to suffocate what remains of the neighborhood. That is a glaring deficit and could have been avoided if the developer and architect actually looked at and considered the once charming courtyard concept in place and took inspiration from it. The idea which had many examples on Melrose has been erased to the extent that every store front is undiscernabke from the next. The warren of courtyards and alleys were intrresting and convenient to vendors and shoppers alike. Now our boulevards are one extended version of the soon to be dead mall with endless corporate presence with only accidental real individuality. The entire block on both sides of SM Blvd seems a hulking, uninteresting mass of has been architectural concepts. Note to Ramada: please change the tide with a thoughtful makeover.

  5. Aside from the obvious issues of mass, scale and traffic, it was not clear if the developer was going to provide any “very low” income affordable units. We have a huge unmet demand for very low income inclusionary housing but the City keeps rewarding developers by allowing what is called “moderate” rate housing which is beyond the means of most people on limited incomes, including most of the long term residents being forced out by the demolition of rent controlled buildings. I understand that developers want to maximize their profits but the City really needs to extract some meaningful benefits when making so many concessions to developers.

    But as we have seen with the project at 8899 Beverly Blvd., it doesn’t matter if we make our building codes more restrictive when the City Council simply changes them to benefit develpers when the public is not paying attention. That is the point of having residential zoning when the Center for Early Education, which is essentially a business, can demolish a nine unit rent controlled building to expand their play ground. Codes don’t matter when the City ignores them.

  6. Why are we letting these f***ck**g developers destroy our city and make gobs of money. Most if not all do not even live anywhere near our city and don’t feel the day to day impact. The City Council should be ashamed of themselves. Are these condos or rental units??

  7. I love it. I’m sad it will mean the end of Collar and Leash and the courtyard restaurant space, but I love the size and intent. I love the height because it’s built into the hill. My only reservation is that it shouldn’t be tall enough to destroy the views from those white townhouses that are behind the empty parking lot.

  8. If our current zoning codes allow monstrosities like this one, then it’s time to update our municipal codes and zoning laws and stop this nonsense already.

  9. RE: 8555 Santa Monica – Commissioner Altschul is correct: the massing of this monstrosity is “shocking” and it does “take over” West Knoll Drive – what is now a nice sleepy mixed density residential street. 8555 essentially takes the height/mass of the huge Santa Monica Blvd apartment bldgs like the Dillon, Avalon WeHo and the one under construction at Detroit and plops it on a narrow residential street of one story homes and three story apartment buildings.

    What is most egregious – is that this project represents the WORST of maximizing density by adding in the Commercial zone’s mixed use incentive (bonus 10′ height) and affordable housing (bonus 35% MORE units and 10′ additional height). And … get this … by buying the three lots on West Knoll – which sit 25′ above Santa Monica Blvd – the developer builds the project to the WEST KNOLL HEIGHT and NOT the Santa Monica height. In fact, 55′ is the MAX HEIGHT on Santa Monica allowed (w/ the two 10′ incentive bonuses) – but the City is ALLOWING the developer to “step back” an additional two stories along Santa Monica (plus roof equipment) for an EXTRA 30′ (that’s THIRTY FEET of ILLEGAL NON-CONFORMING HEIGHT) so that the project’s floors equal the height of the buildings on West Knoll Drive.

    Now, keep in mind, those three single family homes the developer bought are all SMALL LOTS that are NON-CONFORMING R-4 lots in that they are each less than 5,000 square feet of lot area (the R4 min size). But the developer has designed this density busting project as if West Knoll Drive is Santa Monica Blvd – and carries over those floors to essentially build 6+ floors of height along Santa Monica – dwarfing all around it.

    But the City planning staff, Planning Commissions and others don’t note any of these issues? Really? What part of protecting our “urban village” does landing a behemoth get anyone?

    This is where our City council-members and commissioners are SELLING US OUT. There are enough “issues” in how the zoning and building codes affect this project that a much more reasonably scaled project could have been designed that better integrates a mixed-use commercial project fronting Santa Monica Blvd and a much more sensitively scaled and designed residential portion facing West Knoll.

    In a City who puts developers’ projects through the ringer over height / bulk/ massing and step backs – even when they fully comply to code – how is it that people are not fighting for THIS DEVELOPER to reduce mass and bulk by PAYING THE IN-LIEU AFFORDABLE HOUSING FEE for the 22 units and reducing the height/mass and bulk by 10+ feet.

    ALSO – WHY IS THE CITY ALLOWING THE HEIGHT TO EXCEED 55′ ON SANTA MONICA BLVD? The “slope” of the site only affects certain part of the property – but the City is GIVING them this bulk by looking the other way. Hmmm … could it be the four council persons who receive donations from this developer? Is this one already “in the bag” (so to speak?)

  10. Calling West Knoll Drive north of Santa Monica Blvd a “sleepy street” proves unequivocally how out of touch some folks are with reality. Shoreham Drive north of Sunset Blvd is a sleepy street. West Knoll Drive is not

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