West Hollywood’s Planning Commission delayed approval of a preschool on San Vicente Boulevard on Thursday night, sending it back for revisions after concerns were raised about its traffic and noise impacts in the neighborhood.
Located at 972 N. San Vicente Blvd., just south of Sunset (two lots south of the London Hotel), the three-story preschool would have space for a maximum of 72 children, aged 18 months to 5 years. The new building would replace a single family home with a detached rear garage and upstairs apartment.
Designed by architects with the Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects firm, the 8,300-square-foot building has six classrooms and outdoor areas for both play and learning activities in the rear. With an exterior of plaster, glass and translucent metal panels, the building does not resemble the typical preschool.
The Commission was impressed with the project, Commissioner Rogerio Carvalherio calling it an “incredibly elegant building.” They also liked the fact that the owner, Nasim Pahlavan, put so much care into planning her preschool for an underserved city which has approximately 1,000 children under age 5, but only enough preschool space for 250 children.
However, the Commission had issues with the plan for dropping off and picking up children in the underground parking area. The circular driveway has enough space for nine cars to line up to drop off/pick up, but queuing to get into that driveway would not be allowed on San Vicente since it is so close to the Sunset Boulevard intersection.
Pahlavan explained her staff could get a child into or out of a car seat in 25 seconds, a figure several Commissioners questioned. Pahlavan further explained that the preschool would have staggered drop off/pick up times to prevent cars from queuing up on San Vicente to get into the driveway. But if a line did develop, parents would be instructed to drive around the block while the cars in the driveway cleared.
During the public comment period, resident Jon Viscott, who lives directly across the street, called this queuing plan “ludicrous,” and said the idea of putting a preschool on busy San Vicente was “ill conceived.”
When asked what the Plan B was if the drive-around-the-block plan didn’t work, Pahlavan said they would “figure it out.” The answer was not acceptable and the Commission said the drop off/pick up plan would have to be worked out before they could approve the preschool’s Conditional Use Permit.
Concerns were also raised regarding noise from the outdoor play area. An acoustic report suggested the playground would only produce an average 46 decibels of noise, on par with a library. However, Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner said that noise from children playing tends to have spikes that are considerably louder than 46 decibels and worried about the impact on surrounding neighbors.
Resident Christina Bermudas, who lives on Larrabee Street directly behind the preschool, said sound tests were done from her apartment balcony, but failed to take into account the echo chamber effect of sound bouncing off the surrounding concrete buildings. She worried noise from children playing would impact her, noting that she can already hear conversations held on balconies of the London Hotel perfectly in her apartment.
The Commission concluded the acoustic study was inadequate and must be redone taking the echo chamber aspect into consideration.
Once the traffic and noise issues are addressed, the preschool will return for another hearing before the Planning Commission.
8120 Santa Monica Blvd.
The commission also gave thumbs up to plans for the city to build a temporary parking lot on the southwest corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Heights Boulevard.
That city purchased that property in 2016 after the Walgreens drug store chain abandoned plans to construct a four-story retail-residential building on that lot which previously had a strip mall that included a dry cleaner, donut shop, restaurant, etc.
The city plans to eventually develop the lot, but is not yet ready to hold public meetings to determine the correct use for the site. So, rather than leave it a dirt lot, the city plans to construct a 78-space surface lot that includes six electric vehicle charging stations.
The lot will have entrances and exits on Santa Monica Boulevard and Crescent Heights Boulevard, plus an exit only on Havenhurst Drive.
The lot will be open for public use from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., but residents who purchase a $9 per quarter permit can use it for overnight parking. An eight-foot concrete wall will be constructed on the southern end of the lot to cut down on noise and light impacts to the adjacent residential buildings.
Since this is a city-sponsored project, the Planning Commission was not being asked to approve it, but rather just determine if building a parking lot there complied with the General Plan, which guides development in the city. The commissioners unanimously said it was in compliance.
Construction on the parking lot should begin shortly after the City Council gives its blessing.
Although the dirt on the site was contaminated by toxic chemicals from the dry cleaner that was once housed in the strip mall, facilities and field services manager Helen Collins told the Commission that dirt had already been removed. However, Collins added that once the city decides what to build on the site, further remediation of the dirt may be necessary.