Saying it was not compatible with the neighborhood, West Hollywood’s Planning Commission on Thursday night unanimously rejected a proposed five-story retail-residential project on Beverly Boulevard and Sherbourne Drive, adjacent to the old Jerry’s Famous Deli building, which now houses the Granville Café casual dining restaurant.
The developer was seeking to demolish a one-story nightclub building, currently housing the Peppermint Club, at 8713 Beverly Boulevard and combine it with a parking lot at 321-327 Sherbourne Drive. He then would use that property to construct a 41,000-square-foot project consisting of two five-story buildings, one facing Beverly and the other facing Sherbourne. As proposed, the two buildings would be connected by catwalks between each of the upper floors. They would include 9,700 square feet of retail and office space, plus 30 residential units, including five units for lower income residents.
The area is zoned for a maximum of three stories (35 feet in height), but because the city wants to encourage “mixed-used” buildings that include retail and residential in the same project, the city’s Mixed-Use Incentive Overlay Zone allows addition of another floor (10 feet) to a project. Because the project would also have included “affordable housing” (three units for very low-income residents and two for moderate-income residents), the developer asked for permission to add another floor (10 more feet), for a total height of 55 feet.
City zoning requires a ten-foot setback from the rear and side property lines for the first three floors of a building in that part of town, but proposed two floors on top of that (the ones requested via the mixed-use incentive and the affordable housing bonus) must have a 25-foot setback from the edge of the building (not the property line), so the top floors do not overwhelm the adjacent residential areas.
Instead, the building owner/developer, FMA BVRLY, LLC, a company connected to real estate speculator Arash Danialifar, was proposing a 21-and-a-half-foot setback from the property line for the lower three floors and 23 feet from the property line for the upper two floors, a mere 18-inch setback from the building’s edge. Because of the unusual lot size, the building could not include as many residential units as desired with the required 25 foot setback on the top two floors, so FMA BVRLY, LLC was requesting a waiver from that required setback.
While the commissioners praised architect Lorcan O’Herlihy’s design (several calling it “innovative”) the proposed setbacks and the requested waiver concerned them. As Commissioner Shelia Lightfoot explained, the developer was attempting to take advantage of the mixed-use incentive by adding a floor, but then wanted to circumvent the rules set up for use of that mixed-use incentive by asking for the waiver of the required setback.
“If they want the extra story, [the 25-foot setback from the building’s edge] is what they’ve got to give the city in exchange,” said Lightfoot. “They’re double dipping here. If we allow this here, you mark my words, every halfway aggressive developer that comes in these mixed-used zones is going to be doing the same thing.”
The Commission worried about setting a precedent by approving it, but also worried whether there was legal grounds to deny it. The city attorney said there had been no court cases that gave a legal interpretation of state laws regarding setbacks and building incentives, the commissioners did not feel comfortable rejecting it on that basis, fearful they might open the city to a lawsuit.
Nearby residents spoke against the project at the Planning Commission meeting, saying they were concerned about traffic, noise from the rooftop decks and the 55-foot high wall near their backyards that might block sunlight from reaching their units. Commissioner Sue Buckner said the project was “out of scale” with the neighborhood ,where the other residential units are just two stories tall. Similarly, Commissioner Stacey Jones commented that it was too tall and “not the best project for the neighborhood.”
Commissioner John Altschul proposed rejecting the project on the basis of its being incompatible with the neighborhood. The other commissioners agreed and voted unanimously to reject it.
Todd Elliott, an attorney representing FMA BVRLY, LLC, declined to comment after the decision.
Proposal to Require Developers to Install Art on Project Fences Is Denied
On a 4-2 vote, the Planning Commission rejected a proposal to require mandatory artwork on construction fences, instead recommending that such artwork be voluntary.
Mayor Lauren Meister proposed such a requirement last year. The proposal before the Planning Commission would require contractors or developers to have artwork on construction fences for any project that involves demolishing a building or is 10,000 square feet or larger.
In November of last year, the city’s WeHo Arts program commissioned such a project dubbed “The Kicks of Route 66.” It featured various shoes along historic Route 66 on the construction fence surrounding the city-owned property on the southwest corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica boulevards (once the site of a proposed Walgreens Drug store mixed-use project).
Several residents praised the idea of mandatory construction fence artwork, including Scott Schmidt, who said it would “improve the quality of life.” However, an equal number of people decried the idea, including resident Graciala Iparaguin, who called the mandatory art “inflicting landscape garbage” on citizens.
The commissioners debated whether requiring the artwork would be a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech. Several commissioners also worried about the cost to the project to the contractor or developer, estimated to be $8 to $25 per square foot of fencing, plus the fee for the artist.
Genevieve Morrill, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, suggested the Commission make the artwork voluntary, but also create incentives to entice developers to do artwork. However, the commissioners showed little interest in devising incentives, save for one involving branding.
City regulations already allow for small signs announcing future tenants and/or the construction company on the construction fences. The Commission liked the idea of expanding on such signs by allowing artwork that included branding, provided that branding was somehow related to the construction project. For example, if a Rolex watch store was opening in a building, the artwork could be related to watches or time.
“A developer would likely jump at the chance to brand it and include art,” commented Commissioner David Aghaei.
Commissioners Shelia Lightfoot and John Altschul voted against the voluntary artwork, feeling it should be mandatory. The City Council will have the final say on the matter.
Commission Approves Driveway Encroachment for Commercial Projects
The Planning Commission also voted unanimously last night to allow driveways leading to underground parking in commercial projects to encroach in the ten-foot side setback and go up to the property line of an adjacent residential property provided the driveway is enclosed. Such enclosed driveways tend to cut down on noise emanating from the underground parking and thus disturb the residential areas less. The Commission also required that some type of landscaping be used to act as a buffer between the enclosed driveway and the adjacent residential lot.
Rogerio Carvalheiro to Join Planning Commission in May
During Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilmember John Duran named Rogerio Carvalheiro, the principal architect with the Los Angeles-based RCDF Studio, as his new appointee to the Planning Commission, replacing Roy Huebner, who resigned in December. Although Carvalheiro sat in the audience observing Thursday’s meeting, he will not officially join the Planning Commission until its next meeting, on May 4. Carvalheiro has previously served on the city’s Public Facilities Commission and currently serves as Councilmember Lindsey Horvath’s appointee to the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission.