City Council Rejects Proposal to Separate Design Review from the Planning Commission

The West Hollywood City Council last night rejected a proposal to create a Design Review Advisory Board that would take on some of the responsibilities now handled by the city’s Planning Commission.

The proposal was made by Councilmember Lauren Meister, who cited a concern that Planning Commission members who sit on the Commission’s current Design Review Subcommittee aren’t required to have a background in architecture or design. Meister also said that subcommittee members who work with developers and their architects to improve the designs of their projects may end up biased in their favor when the projects go before the full Planning Commission for approval.  She proposed that each City Council member be allowed to appoint a single advisory board member.

Illustration of a project reviewed by the design review subcommittee (8711-8713 Beverly Blvd. Loran O’Herlihy Architects)

The proposal got the support of several community members including Richard Giesbret, chair of the West Hollywood West Residents Association, and Cathy Blavis, Matt Dubin and Steve Martin.

However Ed Levin, a prominent local architect, criticized the proposal, saying it is “unnecessary and the structure being proposed is unworkably bad.”

Levin has previously served on the Beverly Hills Architecture Commission, that city’s body for reviewing the design of commercial and multi-family projects.  He said that creating two separate bodies to review development plans – one to review the design and the other to ensure the project means city land use standards – would separate the evaluation of two issues that are inevitably intertwined. 

While the proposed Design Review Advisory Board would only have the power to make recommendations to the Planning Commission, Levin said he anticipated the Planning Commission kicking back designs approved by the advisory board with which it disagreed. That would slow the process of evaluating and approving projects.

Councilmember John Heilman made a similar argument in citing his opposition to the proposal. Heilman, Levin and other council members also noted that the city has created a new division, the Urban Design & Architecture Studio.  The head of that division will be charged with implementing an urban design strategy that “will improve civic architecture, infrastructure, the public realm, and the relationship of private developments to public spaces in West Hollywood,” according to a job description for its manager.

“We should not add another layer to our process,” Heilman said. Councilmember Lindsey Horvath agreed with him that they should let the new design and architecture studio begin its work before considering other options.

Noting that her fellow Council members didn’t support the proposal, Meister agreed to table it.

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Richard K.
Richard K.

It’s too bad the proposal for a Design Review Advisory Board was rejected by Council, as it was a forward looking proposal for West Hollywood. If you’ve ever attended the current Design Review Subcommittee you’d know why. Though I assume the subcommittee means well, it’s only through a fortunate stroke of serendipity that any designs have improved through the existing process. New commercial design in the city has been a mosh pit lacking in vision and aesthetics. I believe most residents are not happy with most of the buildings that have been approved and built in the last decade. Design… Read more »