Catch restaurant, West Hollywood’s latest celebrity hotspot, caught heat once again over noise complaints during the city Planning Commission’s Thursday night meeting.
The trendy rooftop restaurant on the northwest corner of Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard has been a magnet for celebrities and paparazzi from the moment it opened in September 2016. Serving about 1,000 guests per night, it has also been a magnet for complaints from residents living nearby, angry about noise emanating from the restaurant.
During a review in June, the Commission severely chastised Catch owners, telling them to fix problems related to noise and traffic disturbing the adjacent residential area of West Hollywood West. The restaurant seems to have gotten traffic issues until control, but noise issues still plague residents.
During its latest review on Thursday, Jeff Aubel, the city’s code compliance manager, told the commissioners his office has received 15 noise complaints about the restaurant in the four months since the Planning Commission last reviewed it. Five of those complaints proved to be legitimate, i.e., code compliance officers could hear the noise from the street when they arrived.
However, ten of the 15 complaints were not substantiated, i.e., a code compliance officer could not hear the noise from the residential street. Aubel said at least one of those unsubstantiated noise complaints regarding Catch turned out to be from a special event being held in the plaza of the nearby Pacific Design Center.
Jim Arnone, an attorney representing Catch, reported the restaurant plans to build a glass enclosure that will extend 45 feet from the rooftop entrance across approximately half of the restaurant’s southern terrace, the area that faces the residential area. That glass enclosure is currently in plan check with the city’s building and safety department and will likely be completed late this year.
With the rainy season approaching, Catch also plans to install a temporary plastic roof covering the entire terrace area for several months. Both measures are expected to substantially reduce noise from the rooftop.
In addition, speakers on the restaurant’s terrace are programmed to turn off at 10 p.m., and the volume on inside speakers is also programmed to automatically reduce after 10 p.m.
However, the five substantiated noise complaints came on three different nights when Catch was holding special events and had live bands performing or DJs spinning records on the terrace.
Catch general manager Mike Ilig reported that he has an employee walking the adjacent neighborhood three times a night to check for noise impacts. He also gave out his phone number for residents to call him directly with complaints.
During the public comment period, several residents said they never hear noise from Catch. Commissioner Adam Bass said he recently walked the area specifically to check on noise from Catch, but heard nothing.
However, several other residents living nearby complained about being awakened by the noise.
“Catch does not care about me, nor does it care about my neighbors. They are incredibly and entirely unsympathetic,” said James Goldus, who lives two blocks from the restaurant. “I have a job that I need to sleep to perform well. My job performance has been impaired on multiple evenings because of the noise that comes from that rooftop.”
Richard Giesbret, the president of the West Hollywood West Residents Association, said the noise isn’t continuous, that it can come in spikes. He also said that it places an unfair burden on residents to have to continually call to complain about the noise when the situation can be easily fixed.
Commissioner John Altschul compared the situation to when the famed Spago restaurant first opened on Horn Avenue, just above Sunset Boulevard. Spago also attracted a celebrity crowd, lots of paparazzi and lots of cars. Altschul said it took several years before all the kinks were worked out, but Spago ended up being a good neighbor that brought lots of publicity and tax revenue to the city.
Commissioner David Aghaei appreciated Altschul’s point, but said the area around Sunset Boulevard has long been known for its clubs, nightlife and accompanying noise. Aghaei noted the area along Melrose does not have a reputation for nightlife, that the adjacent residential area is known for being quiet and peaceful. Aghaei was especially disturbed that people were being awakened by the noise.
“The sales tax revenue is wonderful. The brand recognition, name recognition that it brings to the city is also a wonderful benefit, but if people can’t sleep at night, I don’t see the point of this,” Aghaei said. “The fact we have neighbors directly to the south that are here now telling us this is an issue and the fact that we told them four months ago [at the last review] that this was an issue, and it seems like they’re just flying in the face of that for profit, I take issue with that. I’m not OK with this.”
Commissioner Bass suggested this was not an area over which the Planning Commission has jurisdiction any longer, saying this was a code compliance problem. Typically, code compliance takes repeated code violations to the Business License Commission for review.
However in June 2015, when the Commission gave its OK for the restaurant to serve alcohol, the commissioners, worried about the potential for such noise problems, instructed that Catch come back for periodic reviews. The next review is scheduled for January or February.
Another concern centered around the three special events during which the code compliance officers heard noise on the street. Catch only had permits to hold two of those three special events. The Commission chastised them for not having a permit for that third special event.
Catch is allowed a total of four special events each year and still is allowed one more this year (despite holding one special event without the proper permit).
Commissioner Sue Buckner suggested the restaurant should not hold so many special events and, when it does, should end the live music or DJs by 10 p.m. if it wants to be a good neighbor.
9001-9017 Santa Monica Boulevard
The Planning Commission also approved an 18-month extension for obtaining building permits connected to the retail-residential project at 9001-9017 Santa Monica Blvd. (just west of the Pavilions supermarket), along with waiving some fees connected to the project.
That five-story project with 37 residential units, eight of which will be for low-income residents, was ready to get its building permits in early August, at which time $500,000 in fees to the city were due. However, before construction loans were approved to pay those fees, the building’s plan check expired.
Several components of the city’s building code have changed since the plan check was initially approved. Consequently, the projects plans must be redone to comply with the current code requirements. Those altered plans must now be resubmitted for plan check.
Mark Lehman, an attorney representing the owner, SM Ramage LLC, requested the fees for the resubmitted plan check be waived.
The commission approve the 18-month extension and fee waiver on a 5-2 vote with Commissioners David Aghaei and Stacey Jones voting against.
Pending final approval by the City Council, the project now has until June 22, 2019 to obtain all its building permits and until Dec. 24, 2019 to begin substantial construction.
The project was first approved in 2007 when it was known as the “Palm Project” because the high end Palm restaurant was to be a tenant. At that point, the project was set to be built in two phases to accommodate the Palm restaurant, which sat on the eastern portion of the property since 1975. Once the first phase was completed, the Palm was to move into the new building, then the second phase was to be built on the land where the Palm originally sat.
However, the project was delayed when residents Jeanne Dobrin and Allegra Allison filed a lawsuit because, as approved at 62 feet in height, the project was seven feet taller that the city’s zoning code allowed. That suit was settled when owners agreed to reduce the height to 55 feet, the maximum allowed for a five-story building.
Because of the lawsuit and the recession, the start of construction was substantially delayed. Then in 2013, the Palm opted to move to Beverly Hills, negating the need to build it in two phases. At that point, it became known as the 9001-9017 Santa Monica Blvd. project.
In other business, the commission unanimously approved conditions for constructing “accessory dwelling units” such as guest houses or mother-in-law units in R1, R2, R3 and R4 residential zones.
It also unanimously rejected a proposal to change zoning codes to encourage live-work units along Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. While the commissioners want to see more live-work housing units in the city, they said the proposal submitted needs more work.