City Council Agrees to Put Its Approval of the Arts Club Project on the March Ballot

As expected, the West Hollywood City Council voted on Monday night to put on the March 5, 2019, ballot a proposal to rescind its August decision to permit the construction of the Arts Club on Sunset Boulevard.

Unite Here Local 11, the hotel and restaurant workers union, gathered 2,831 signatures on a petition that forced the council to either put the matter on the ballot or to vote to reverse its earlier decision approving the project.

Illustration of the Sunset Strip facade of the Arts Club during daylight hourse (Gensler architects)

In what was otherwise an exceptionally short meeting, more than a dozen speakers turned out to speak for and against the Arts Club. Keith Kaplan, chair of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, criticized the union for using what he alleged were lies about the project to get local residents to sign the petition against it. Kaplan noted that the union had gone through a similar, although unsuccessful, effort earlier this year to reverse the City Council’s approval of the Robertson Lane hotel, restaurant and retail project. Genevieve Morrill, the Chamber’s CEO, also called out the union for entering into contracts with hotels that resulted in its members being paid less than the $15 minimum wage.

Residents Elyse Eisenberg, Felice Kaplan and John Lovejoy were among those who spoke in favor of the Arts Club project. Eisenberg, who heads the West Hollywood Heights Neighborhood Association, noted that she was not known as a big supporter of development on Sunset Boulevard. The Arts Club is “is probably the rare and only project on the Sunset Boulevard that I’ve ever been supportive of,” Eisenberg said, with a hint of irony.

A number of young people who identified themselves as residents of West Hollywood spoke against the Arts Club project. Some said that building the members-only club, whose London affiliate charges nearly $2,500 a year for membership, rather than more housing contradicted WeHo’s claim to be a strong advocate for affordable housing. The lot at 8920 Sunset on which the club would be built includes land now occupied by the Hustler sex accessories shop and some office suites.

Steve Martin, a former city council member, also spoke out against the project. “A residentially zoned lot is going to be ceded to a wealthy developer without any benefit to the community,” Martin said. “This is an intrusion of commercial interests into a residential zone. We are trying to make this a livable city and make this a place for people to live.”

As proposed, the Arts Club would be housed in a nine-story building on the south side of Sunset at Hilldale Avenue. It will include a restaurant, a lounge, a supper club, 10 guest rooms that can be rented to club members and a rooftop pool area as well as retail space and a public art gallery and performance rehearsal space. There will be nearly 46,000 square feet of office space.

The Arts Club has agreed to provide $13.5 million in benefits to the city. That includes a publicly accessible art gallery and a rehearsal space and a staff to maintain it, which it values at $10.1 million. There also would be a contribution to city arts programs of $1.25 million over 10 years and an additional $1 million contribution to the city.

The Arts Club was founded in 1863 in London by a group that included author Charles Dickens. The private club, somewhat similar to the SoHo House club, which is further west on the Sunset Strip, will be for creative people such as writers, artists and designers.

The building is designed by architect Andy Cohen of Gensler. The Sunset Boulevard-facing façade will be angled so that each floor is slightly smaller than the floor below, with the top floor being about a third smaller than the ground level. It will also feature vertical glass panels, or fins, on the outside to create a unique appearance.

The City Council’s approval was necessary because the proposed building will be substantially higher and more dense that what is permitted under the city’s zoning ordinance and the Sunset Specific Plan.

  1. I am adamant about that these exclusive members only clubs are coming about because it’s cache to be in West Hollywood. Thus was suppose to be an affordable city to live in with the city incorporating almost 34 years ago this month or 35 years all together only to see rents skyrocket in less than a decade and locals and residents have to struggle just to remain in a city that three decades ago said this would be a priority and being displaced or marginalized wouldn’t happen! Well look at gentrification and people beautifying only to be ushered out because the price point became unattainable after living here for a decade. Never mind affordable housing being built for existing residents,
    now it’s people who want and. An afford multi mullion dollar condos and celebrity hot spots and exclusive restaurants with high prices and exclusive nightclubs with strict guest lists and now private members only clubs!

    What the heck is going on in Weho?!!!
    It’s either the homeless issues, the rent control for people like me not to be priced out and now rich and richer driving their Mercedes Benz’s Lamborghini’s and Maybach’s to be flaunting up and down Sunset Blvd!

    Our city of rent protections has become a mockery at our expense for the modern day bougious elitists who are granted membership and access proven themselves successful in the entertainment, literary or communications fields, the theatre, designers or in the design or artistic positions, for others of us locals, it is entry and access denied! It’s the bougious social nightclubs of all society.

    It’s almost self-imposed socio-economic sequestering or shall I say bluntly restricting access by labeling you immediately as a have or have not!
    With a velvet rope determining your social status in this city, people shouldn’t chance or avoid areas in the possibility of being embarrassed or ridiculed!

    I see no affordable housing trust fund that would be an oxymoron to their end goal.
    The arts club could care less if I was yo he priced out or was forced to leave this city in the future as I was in the past. The more affluent this community becomes the better it is for them and the worse for fixed income households that don’t even come to mind!

    I live south of West Sunset and with me walking and waiting for the 2 Metro Bus, I shouldn’t feel I don’t belong or that I am out of place or stand out in an odd way in My Own Neighborhood! I refuse to be displaced, replaced, or shunned overtime in place of someone else

    I applaud the millennial speaking against this project knowing they couldn’t afford to live or even be a member or are facing debt crisis and roommate shares and where the next meal is coming from.

    I am voting against the Arts Club come March and we must combat wealthy residents or residential clubs or homeowner associations, what do I get from them as well-NOTHING, as in Nothing from the Arts Club too. My vote is NO!

  2. “As expected, the West Hollywood City Council voted on Monday night to put on the March 6, 2019,”…

    Should be March 5, 2019

  3. Keep in mind this project exceeds the already generous benefits provided by the Sunset Specific Plan, which is why John Heilman voted against it; even he felt it was too big.

    Essentially this is an office building with a club house. While we need office space, this project also incorporates a parcel that was zoned residential even though it has historically been used as surface parking. As our City Council keeps saying we need more residential housing you would think we would have wanted that parcel developed for residential purposes. Once again the General Plan and our zoning mean nothing when met with a deep pocketed developer who has spent thousands on a sophisticated public relations campaign that was able to obscure the fact that this project is way beyond what they were legally entitled to develop.

    It just seems to me that Unite Here is doing us a favor by pointing out how certain developers seem to be able to buy their way out of the limitations of our General Plan. Deep pocketed developers and their lackeys at the Chamber of Commerce have bulldozed neighborhood opponents of out-of-scale development for years so I don’t see Unite Here as a threat; it may help level the playing field. I don’t think any West Hollywood residents will be losing any sleep over the fate of this project one way or the other.

    1. It’s mixed use. Restaurant, gallery and retail shops on the ground floor. Offices above with a club at top. The overwhelming majority of residents that participated in the approval process – attending multiple meetings – SUPPORTED this projected and want to see it built. The union doesn’t give a rat’s ass about affordable housing, they just wanted to force the club to go union. When they didn’t get their way, they used misleading info to gather enough signatures. They will fail because the same majority that supported this project through the process will be the same majority voting in March. The union will NOT tell us what we can and can not build in our city.

      1. Who is JJ this man seems always to be on the developers sides and never talks about affordable housing. Why is it always clubs and office space and commercial? Residential can’t encroach on commercial space but commercial space sure encroaches on the residential space as Steve was specifying. Can you imagine the noise. Why would I be interested in people having their group hotel room parties and dalliances! Charles Dickens would be rolling in his grave! Not very A Christmas Carol if you ask me. It’s just the rich getting or expecting the richer while the poorer locals are on the outside looking in!

        1. Who is this James Francis? Who tries to imply something when another resident doesn’t agree with him? This property has had a commercial building (commercial zone) on it and a commercial parking lot (on what is zoned residential) for YEARS. This project is not removing any affordable housing. No housing has ever existed there. It’s removing an ugly eyesore (Hustler) and bringing a very prestigious building to the strip. It’s also bringing a public art gallery and public restaurant space. I don’t stand alone on my support for this project. This was overwhelmingly supported by all residents of this city (at least the ones that cared enough to attend the meetings this project – and every large project- goes through). And you’re right, I do support a lot of new projects because I like to see the city move forward and evolve. I like to see areas and buildings that have been neglected given a new life. People complained when the old Pavilions was torn down and now everyone enjoys the new, larger store. They complained when SM Blvd was redone and the sidewalks widened. Now we all enjoy eating outside on the sidewalks. People don’t like change. I get that. But change is good and some people have the foresight to realize that. No pain, no gain. This development will be an asset to the city. The majority will vote in favor of this project once again in March and that will be the end of this union’s blackmail tactics.

    2. Steve Martin has made a point…which IS THE POINT. The General Plan has a useful purpose as it is in every resident’s best interest to have all abide by it. It’s a lucky break that Unite Here connected on this. The Public Benefit smoke and mirrors is also just smoke and mirrors to divert from the issue. While it would be good to have The Arts Club as a fixture on the Sunset Strip, the building itself is over the top in its Bigness. Let’s bring it into scale and compliance and move forward.

      1. The General Plan is just that..a plan. Plans can be modified and the city can do that-if the benefit outweighs the modification to the plan. In this case it did. The benefits the Arts Club is providing the city and the surrounding neighborhood are welcomed. Currently the parking lot has been used for the commercial space. There is no loss of affordable housing with the building of this project. The majority of residents supported this modification to the General Plan and the city gave the residents what they wanted. The majority will reaffirm that in March. The union will not dictate to us what we can and can not build in this city. Period.

        1. Very few read the fine print and comprehend it including the commissioners. When the commissioners do read the fine print they often get lost in the weeds and the big picture becomes obscured. Easy to go off track.

          1. I’m sorry, but if you (or anyone else) paid the least bit of attention at any one the meetings that were held for this project, you would have heard the size of the building discussed at great length. Plenty of residents were informed. Ignorance is no excuse. The information is readily available. You have to care enough to participate. Not bitch after the fact.

  4. This is ridiculous. I’ve lived in West Hollywood for over 15 years and welcome this change to the strip. This is nothing more than the union trying to get the developers to hire their staff. They tried doing this on Robertson Lane and started a campaign to kill the project. As the commenter above stated, I hope the rest of the residents don’t allow this union to dictate what can and can’t be built. I also hope the Arts Club folks build a giant counter campaign to this.

  5. The residents of this city will NOT allow this union to tell us what can and can not be built in our city. The union will lose.

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