WeHo City Council Gives Final Approval to the Robertson Lane Project

A crowded City Council meeting for discussion of the Robertson Lane project.

On a 4-1 vote, West Hollywood’s City Council approved the large Robertson Lane hotel-retail-restaurant project on Monday night after a three-hour public hearing.

A standing-room-only crowd filled the council chamber, with the public comment portion of the meeting consuming 90 minutes, 40 people speaking in favor of the project and 16 against it. A majority of those opposed were from the UNITE Here Local 11 hotel workers union, primarily concerned that the hotel pay its workers a living wage.

Owner Jason Illoulian, who is developing Robertson Lane through his company, Faring, and said it would be his family’s “legacy,” volunteered to add a number of conditions, including paying hotel workers a minimum of $15.37 per hour, providing hotel workers with panic buttons and making a concerted effort to hire local workers.

The Robertson Lane project straddles Robertson Boulevard and La Peer Drive, just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, 1.94 acres of land that is now occupied by parking lots and the historic Factory building. The project will include a nine-story hotel with a total of 241 rooms, plus a rooftop restaurant and pool. With six levels of subterranean parking for a total of 750 parking spaces, Robertson Lane will also include ground-level retail and restaurant space, plus an underground nightclub. The centerpiece of the project is a 35-foot wide walkway, known as a “paseo,” in the middle of the site, going between Robertson and La Peer.

The Council liked the project, Councilmember John Heilman calling it an “exceptional design,” and praising it for enhancing area which is currently underutilized.

An illustration of the Robertson Lane project with the Factory building in the foreground (Hodgetts + Fung Architects)

During public comment, several people hailed the fact Robertson Lane will include banquet/event/convention space for up to 700 people, something desperately needed in the city. Other commenters said it will offer an economic boost to a section of town that is a “dead man’s zone,” as one person described it.

Councilmember Lauren Meister cast the sole vote against the project, concerned that a nine-story building, with a height of 114 feet, goes against the city’s General Plan, which guides development in the city. She criticized the fact the project’s Environmental Impact Report did not consider whether a five or six-story hotel would work there. However, the other councilmembers did not express worries about the height. Likewise, only one public commenter mentioned the height.

Meister was also troubled that the project was far more valuable than was being estimated, suggesting Faring should pay somewhere between $20 and $25 million in public benefits, instead of the $9.17 million being proposed.

However, none of the other council members shared that concern either. Councilmember John D’Amico said $9.17 million seemed like the “sweet spot.” Heilman noted the city hired consultants Keyser Marston Associates for their expertise and should trust their calculations on the project’s value.

Robertson Lane is scheduled to pay $4 million in cash for streetscaping, West Hollywood Park improvements and security improvements in the area. Additionally, the project will provide subsidized parking for area businesses to lease and also pay .75% above the standard Transit Occupancy Tax (hotel room tax) over the next 25 years, for a total of approximately $5 million.

Repositioning the Factory Building

To accommodate that paseo going through the middle of the project, the historic Factory building, which sits on an east-west axis between Robertson and La Peer, will be dismantled and rebuilt on a different portion of the site. As it is rebuilt, the building (once home to Mitchell Camera, an early maker of movie cameras, and later the site of the famous Studio One gay nightclub) will also be repositioned on a north-south axis along Robertson. Plans call for the 240-feet long Factory building to be shortened by about 100 feet when it is reassembled. The green paint currently covering the windows will be scraped off, so the retail shops in the reassembled building will have lots of natural light.

Although repositioning the Factory building along Robertson has drawn criticism from some locals, several local preservation groups gave their blessing, including the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance (WHPA), the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles field office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Adrian Scott Fine of the LA Conservancy said moving the building was “not perfect preservation,” but would be “meaningful preservation.”

Crown Jewel

Illoulian said the Factory building will become the “crown jewel” of Robertson Boulevard. The Council praised him for preserving the Factory building, although Meister questioned if it could retain its status as a state historic building (the California Historic Resources Commission designated the Factory building as a state historic resource in October 2016) once it is repositioned.

That question aside, Meister also commented that the Factory was the defining aspect of the project.

“It’s the Factory building that gives the project its character. It is the Factory building that shouts loud and proud, ‘This is West Hollywood.’ Not the hotel, it’s the Factory. The Factory is what makes the project special,” said Meister. “Without this building, the Robertson Lane project is, frankly, just another project.”

The Studio One nightclub had a well-documented history of discriminatory practices toward admitting minorities, sometimes demanding three IDs from black or Latino gay patrons and often arbitrarily enforcing dress codes for women. Several public commenters said that discriminatory history .

D’Amico requested Faring file paperwork so the city can designate the Factory building a local historic cultural resource prior to the project being issued a certificate of occupancy.

Fond Memories

Mayor John Duran, who shared memories of spending every weekend for a decade dancing at Studio One in the late 1970s and 1980s, said he supported the project, but with a heavy heart. Duran wished he and his friends (many of whom died from AIDS) could still be dancing at Studio One, but realizes that gay culture has evolved in the past 30 years.

“I don’t take this decision lightly. This is my history, my culture,” said Duran, who requested Illoulian host one final “going away” party at Studio One to honor the people (especially the “spirits” of those who have died) who found a home, who found acceptance and belonging at the club.

Duran expressed hope that the project and its businesses be developed to have the flavor of the “Boystown” LGBT entertainment district along Santa Monica Boulevard rather than the design district showrooms along Melrose Avenue. He also felt the project should have less retail space and more cafes and restaurants.

“This project, in my mind, has to reflect Santa Monica [Boulevard] and not Melrose,” said Duran. “If this thing starts to look like The Grove, looks like a mall, I will be devastated to think that historic Boystown will start to look like a mall.”

After the meeting, Faring representatives were delighted by the vote and happy that the community got behind the project.

“We thank everyone in the community who sat down with us to share their concerns and hopes,” Jake Stevens, Faring’s director of community engagement, told WEHOville. “Their openness made this an amazing project and Robertson Lane is better for the input.”

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About James F. Mills
James F. Mills has reported on West Hollywood extensively for over a decade, notably serving as the editor of AOL’s West Hollywood Patch website. His journalism has also appeared in LA Weekly, Backstage West, Notes From Hollywood, Gay Star News and Frontiers magazine, among others. A North Carolina native, he moved to California as soon as he finished graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and has never looked back.

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Suzanne
Guest
Suzanne

As a parent and resident of West Hollywood, I am very happy to see that this project has been approved, and I can’t wait to see the final product. I have been taking my children to Weho park for the last 10 years, and I have always taken the side of San Vicente due to the fact that the side of Robertson Boulevard feels dirty and creepy. This is going to be a beautiful improvement for North Robertson Blvd combined with the project of the West Hollywood park it is going to bring life and an upscale feeling to this… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

You’ll still be better off taking them on San Vicente as the sidewalks on Robertson will still be narrow.

Randy
Guest
Randy

I don’t understand how Robertson feels “dirty and creepy.” I go there often, and don’t feel that way. I also don’t consider it very family-friendly, with all of the drinking establishments between Melrose and SMB (more-so in the evening). This will add more. I’m not opposed to this project, but I do not understand how it makes this better or safer for families. Also, I think that part of Robertson is very “classy,” as it stands.

Suzanne
Guest
Suzanne

Hi Randy!! well, that is mom talk and my kid’s talk when talking about North Robertson and the Haunted house of Frankenstein.
you are right in the evening it becomes a very adult environment, we never go past 4 pm. If I could take my kids and raise them somewhere else I would, but that is not an option, haha!!

Suzanne
Guest
Suzanne

You are right Steve the narrow sidewalks will not change. But just the fact that the ugly building will have a facelift it is a plus already. that thing is ugly. My kids have been referring to it as the ” Haunted house of Frankenstein.

Brian Holt
Guest
Brian Holt

I like most of the things Faring has planned. But, I agree we sold ourselves short on their public benefits commitment. We should have — We could have done better. Thanks to Lauren for at least attempting to get us more of what we deserve. #richgetricher

Shawn Thompson
Guest
Shawn Thompson

Spot Zoning At Its Slickest. 9 story’s high and a hotel all rapped around how wonderful it will all be. Which is not what the are in zoned for by law. Why do we have zoning laws? If you can just donate to keep the current council members in power and then just bring your projects before them and get what you want? The city was sued before for spot zoning on the palms project. But at this point what does a zoning law mean if you can pay your way into changing it? New project are great, development is… Read more »

Caboom
Guest
Caboom

Congratulations to the city!
This is going to be an amazing asset to West Hollywood. Locals and tourists will be able to take advantage of space that welcomes rather than excluding people. Hopefully they will have that breaking ground party sooner than later.

AriL
Guest
AriL

I think Steve is right, and people around Norma and around/on Rangely are going to be surprised at the least by the scale, especially when so much of the largest hotel sections of the building have no set-backs from the sidewalk on Robertson or La Peer. This project could have been *so* so so much better and Lauren was right to question the public benefit numbers! The site has a famous national historic landmark on it, and we can all see how beneficial that will ultimately be to the owners from a marketing perspective. It’s a a true shame the… Read more »

mille121
Guest
mille121

I couldn’t agree more!

jimmy palmieri
Guest
jimmy palmieri

Councilmember Meister is welcome to express her concerns. I don’t agree with them, but they were heard and well taken. This project to me, will be a stunning addition to Weho, and honoring the factory is a huge plus. I can’t wait for its future.

Lauren Meister
Guest
Lauren Meister

Jimmy, I appreciate your opinion. FYI, as a Councilmember, it is my job to express my concerns.

WeHoMikey
Guest
WeHoMikey

Duran: “… historic Boystown will start to look like a mall”

Start?!?? I guess he’s had his nose buried in Grindr for the past decade, but WeHo long ago became “The Americana” with parking tickets – and he voted in favor of all of it.

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

Thank you Lauren Meister for doing the homework and creating a fair discussion on Robertson Lane. It takes guts to be the lone no-vote in the world where politics, relationships and money often taint an objective view. While the project has great merits- it’s height is not one of them. I think that council should have strived to achieve a unanimous vote on the number of stories. One might not agree with Lauren’s no-vote but she deserves a great deal of respect for asking the right questions and challenging this slam-dunk approval.

Ellen
Guest
Ellen

So glad to see this project approved and I am happy to see that the Councilmembers held the developer to additional conditions on top of the public benefits! I love this project for that site and am happy to see how much it will be giving back.

Woody McBreairty
Guest
Woody McBreairty

John Duran’s “comments” were very touching

Michael G.
Guest
Michael G.

Councilmember Lauren Meister was able to vote no because she’s not on the A-list for developers who own most of the West Hollywood City Council with Mayor John “Grindr” Duran leading the pack. Its called to Pay to Play for significant campaign donations. There’s the Townscape Three: “Boss Tweed” Duran, Lindsay Horvath, and John Heilman now joined by John D’Amico who’s become the “it boy” for every developer’s lobbyist. I don’t think Duran if he has aesthetic tastes, has to worry about Robertson Lane looking like Melrose Blvd. The approved development is just a cluster of more buildings on Santa… Read more »

You don’t say
Guest
You don’t say

Yeah. That’s why WEHO is such an undesirable place to live and work. 🙄Everyone’s corrupt in the eyes of those that would see WEHO stay the same. Your unfounded claims are getting REALLY tired. Move already if you think it’s so bad.

constituent
Guest
constituent

move??? and lose his $2,000 a month rent controlled apartment that he pays $500 for, thanks to WeHo’s Robinhood economic policies? subsidized by his landlord whom he has nothing but contempt for?

Steve Martin
Guest
Steve Martin

If it is built the way it was presented it will be an incredibly beautiful project. But this is more of a homage to to Studio One rather than “preservation” as we know it. Indeed it sets a very poor standard for preserving West Hollywood’s cultural heritage in the future. I believe Council member Meister was right on in her assessment that we are being short changed in regard to the public benefit to be paid by the developer; once again the Council seemed more concerned about reminiscing about their past escapades at Studio One than focusing on what was… Read more »

mike s
Guest
mike s

Agree. West Hollywood is now the 3rd street Promenade. Very generic and uninteresting. Nothing unique or electric about it anymore and has lost all appeal except for TMZ tour bus vomit stops.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Retail has struggled for years on SMB. It’s far from being anywhere near the successful selling environment of the 3rd Street Promenade.

mike s
Guest
mike s

If that is what you want -another 3rd street promenade – than open up more lanes of traffic to support it and open more garages BUT most people in WE HO dont want it to become another generic 3rd street mall. Weho has always been something different than that (we would hope).