Planning Commission Rejects Project Proposed for Beverly at Sherbourne

lorcan o'herlihy, west hollywood planning commission
8713 Beverly Blvd. project as seen from Sherbourne (Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects)

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.

  1. Not every new building should or can be a “Statement Building” When everyone tries, we get this “unacceptable to the human eye” plan. Go with traditional street looking building. Look at the grove. No outrageous “statements” and everybody continues to love the place.

  2. While the commissioners praised architect Lorcan O’Herlihy’s design (several calling it “innovative”)… LOL. That architecture is hideous and goofy!

  3. Robert, is that the best you can do?!…..Cedars is in City of LA and across a wide Blvd. Beverly Center is also in Los Angeles and across Beverly Blvd and San Vicente.

    This WEST HOLLYWOOD project is not compatible because it is FIVE FEET away from a low rise WEST HOLLYWOOD residential neighborhood…..Get it!?

  4. It’s not in a neighborhood. How could it be incompatible? It’s across from Cedars and near Beverly Center. If anything, it’s too small to be compantible with the “neighborhood.”

  5. All comments above make good points. The properties (proposed for the development) are unsightly to say the least and need something special to off-set the enormous developments surrounding it. However–trying to balance size and concrete with more size and concrete is not the answer. It is a shame that the developer (as all developers seem to do) wanted to max out the site and then ask for even more. It would be great for the developer to have included some public green open space right on Beverly as part of the project, as architect O’Hearlihy did with his residential project on Formosa years ago. At the time, THAT project received similar praise AND criticism. However, the site was entirely residential, and the developer made an agreement with the city and donated part of the land as a pocket park. It has ‘aged’ extremely well and the community appreciates the park very much.

    Altho I’m only looking at this one photo–this proposal seems devoid of trees and green space, making it appear completely unlivable and monolithic. Imagining that ‘in the future’ people will like more modernity is a fallacy. EXTRA set-backs, no double-dipping, and EXTRA green space will tend toward an approval every time. Being greedy is not being kind to future generations who will have to live with our decisions after we are gone.

  6. Why is it always people that live on Norton Ave, Jim C and that guy on Doheny that like every single bloated project on the West Side?.

    1. Mr. Nasium, I liked one other thing on the west side and suddenly I like every one – hardly, I think what is happening across from the big former disco AXIS and and I think eventually that building is over the top. I am a bit mystified about the Norton reference, that is not where I live – nor Doheny. And to be fair, and I will probably draw equal rancor, I am in favor of Frank Gehry’s development on the North border of the East side of the town. I don’t generalize when it comes to developments. For instance, Lorcan’s designs on both Formosa and the one on Gardner south of Santa Monica, which are both spitting distance from where I do live, I believe are excellent examples of how clever his design can be, and do wish that in his redo of this property’s design, whose rendering I still have a hard time reading, have the same more deft hand in design than at present. Don’t get me started on what the 800 units of new housing on Santa Monica between La Brea and Plummer Park are doing to the parking lot we call traffic, or the wall of hotels on Sunset – one on the east and one on the west. It’s too much either side of the town,

  7. @Jim C: how about livable dimensions in the outside as well? I don’t know a single soul qualified or other that thinks favorable about the architecture of the Beverly Center. As far as medical buildings, hospitals and the like, the move has been towards less institutional and more human dimensions and accommodations both interior and exterior.

    1. Development Woes:
      Believe me, unless they get way more creative, which they are supposed to be spending enough to do with the Beverly Center’s exterior, especially the gap where the oil well is, no I don’t like that place either. I was commenting on the comments that the type of building being built on that parcel are not like the rest of the neighborhood. Well – that stretch of Beverly, in my humble opinion could use some inventive additions like the Lorcon project to spruce it up. Either that rendering doesn’t do that building justice, or I agree, Lorcon is going to have to do a bit better. If he does stay on the project, I hope that he uses his creative powers to make it more amenable to everyone. I just remember how dreary that stretch of Beverly has been for a while now – since Jerry’s closed and fell into decay. It could use something to brighten it up.

  8. Appropriate to reject, and a sign to all the naysayers that the Planning Commission is discerning and is not a rubber stamp for developers as they claim.

  9. Perhaps I am mistaken, but Cedars Sinai, my home away from home, is across the street from this prospective development, so to say that this is out of scale with the neighborhood is not really accurate. Oh yeah, then there is the teeny tiny Beverly Center just down the road a bit. O’hearlihy is one of the more creative designers in our city, and other than that bright green and white thing on Kings road that I will never understand, his multi unit residential projects both in and outside of Weho are always a welcome artful addition to the neighborhoods. Having installed the wood floors in a number of his projects, I can say with confidence that his interiors are the best, most livable apartment and condo units I have see in this city. He understands the importance of livable dimensions in ways rarely seen in our city. I only hope that he comes back with a modified design that makes the board members and nay-sayers happier, and doesn’t give up on this project. That stretch of Beverly on the north side of the street, with the 2 aging medical buildings just north of the property in question looks incredibly run down, and really could use a daring, colorful design like his to perk the place up and bring it in line with the other ‘modern’ buildings in the neighborhood.

  10. We have to stop this idea of giving developers a “bonus” for doing what they were going to do in the first place. Everything built these days is “mixed use” so why bother giving a density bonus? How about no variations from the set zoning heights and setbacks without a majority of the neighbors allowing it to happen?

    I expect much better from Lorcan O’Herlihy. The firm has many talented architects who can do much better for the City of West Hollywood as well as the developer/owner of the property. Those catwalks look like life-support tube feeding a damaged organ. Possibly that’s appropriate being across the street from Cedars, but not very pleasing to the eye in this rendering.

  11. ‘Preserving the character of the neighborhood’ is now a new euphemism for ‘we don’t want young, people, we don’t want minorities and f–k you, I got mine’ to future residents. Tsk tsk.

  12. This project screams incompatibility and is attempting to be everything to qualify for anything by creating another compromised and opportunistic development opportunity. Innovative was a polite description of something that looks as though it could qualify as an “oddity” museum in a windswept desert town with hopes of making a tourist destination out of a truck stop. Think Marfa. This is a complete fail possibly resurrected from the trash can of doodles. Lorcan O’Hearlihy, a respectable architect, has a responsibility to offer something commensurate with the neighborhood, approaching the quality of the 8899 Beverly project.

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