The West Hollywood Planning Commission tonight approved a proposal by a Beverly Hills developer to demolish two apartment buildings on Fountain Avenue at Laurel and replace them with a four-story, 30-unit apartment building.
The demolished buildings contain 13 rent-stabilized units. The new project would add 22 rent-stabilized units and eight affordable units to the city’s housing stock. Of those eight affordable units, six would be for very low income tenants.
The city’s rent stabilization ordinance restricts a building owner’s ability to raise rents on existing tenants to no more than 75% of the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index. The landlord can raise the rent to market rate when a tenant moves out. The ordinance applies to all multi-unit buildings that received their certificate of occupancy before July 1, 1979, and to properties with only one dwelling unit on the whole parcel if the tenants moved in before Jan. 1, 1996.
However, the developer, Fountain Blue Holdings LLC, a company associated with Behruz “Bernie” Gabbai of Beverly Hills, is proposing to remove the current buildings from the market under the state’s Ellis Act, which typically is used when a building owner wants to take a building off the rental market and use it for another purpose or demolish it. Because the proposed project also would be rental apartments, if it is built and offered for rent within five years of the eviction of the final existing tenant, it will continue to be covered by the city’s rent stabilization ordinance.
The proposal approved by the Planning Commission includes three concessions from the city’s zoning regulations in exchange for increasing the required five affordable housing units to eight. Those concessions will expire in five years, effectively denying the developer permission to move forward with the current plan if it doesn’t complete the building during that period, which means its rent increases will continue to be governed by the city’s rent stabilization ordinance.
One of the concessions is an exception to the 35-foot height limit to allow construction of a building 45 feet high, which would allow an additional story. Another is relief from a requirement that 50% of the street-facing front of the first floor be habitable space. The developer proposes instead that the front of the building along Laurel Avenue include a lobby with tenant mailboxes that leads into an exercise room, as well as a manager’s office. And finally, the developer is asking for an exemption from the city’s requirement that the second through fourth floors of the building be set back from the street six feet more than the first floor.
Several people who currently live in the buildings at 8000-8022 Fountain Ave. and 1281 Laurel Ave. spoke out against the project, saying they feared losing their homes. One tenant, who has lived in the building 20 years, made an emotional appeal to the Commission and said that she had been harassed by the building’s previous owner.
The developer must pay a relocation fee to current tenants who are evicted under the state Ellis Act and those tenants are granted a right of first refusal to rent an apartment in the new building if the unit is placed back on the rental market within two years of removal. The rents to subsequent tenants remain the same for five years. The restrictions regarding right of first refusal are attached to the property title and are in effect for the next ten years even if the property is sold.
Commissioner John Altschul noted that all of the apartments in the new building would have two bedrooms, meaning that those deemed “affordable” would not be for someone relocating from a lower-priced one-bedroom unit or studio in the existing buildings. However, Peter Noonan, the city’s rent stabilization and housing manager, said that the city currently has 500 affordable units in its housing portfolio, with most of them one-bedroom units, so that finding a similarly priced affordable unit for someone displaced would be possible.
Several commissioners raised questions about the design of the building, with Rogerio Cavalheiro questioning whether the courtyard proposed for the Fountain Avenue side of the building is really usable given that an adjacent wall is likely to block the sun from the area. However, the commissioners approved the project in a unanimous vote after agreeing that the building’s design was not the matter before them.