Opinion: Lot Spanning — An Issue of Development vs. Tenant Protection

Illustration of proposed 8555 Santa Monica Blvd. project (DFH Architects)

While I know that we are distracted by a host of tawdry headlines, there is an important land use issue before City Council this upcoming Monday that will impact the future of our neighborhoods and will encourage the demolition of rent-stabilized buildings.

The issue is “lot spanning,” which refers to the practice of a developer connecting residentially zoned lots to adjacent commercial lots. This allows the developer to develop a larger single building across and subterranean parking under the entire “spanned parcel,” enhancing its ability to build large scale developments. 

West Hollywood has a unique zoning geography that reflects the fact that we were urbanized when the Red Car ran along Santa Monica Boulevard. Our commercially zoned lots tended to be relatively narrow compared to deeper lots in other areas of the county.  Our abutting residential zones limit the size of commercial development, which may or may not be an issue depending on whether or not you’re a tenant in a building that may be subject to “spanning.”

As this issue has developed, we are seeing proposed developments such as the projects at 8855 Santa Monica at the Collar and Leash site and the hotel/retail/residential project at 7811 Santa Monica at Orange Grove on the site of Brick gym and the old Executive Car Leasing building.  Both of these proposed projects “span” commercial and residentially zoned parcels.  Only R3 and R4 residential zones are included in the “lot spanning,” but those are the zones that contain most of our rent-stabilized units. 

The issue of “spanning” is the subject of Item 3C on the City Council’s upcoming agenda.  The Planning Commission voted unanimously that spanning NOT be allowed. Where a project contains both commercial and residential lots, the Commission recommended the development must have separate commercial and residential buildings on the respective commercial and residential lots with their respective development standards instead of one mega building.  This would maintain more green space and break up the mass of these sorts of projects. 

Currently, there is a “minimum lot size” of 60,000 square feet required for spanning commercial and residential lots, which has tended to discourage spanning.  But City Hall staff is recommending the elimination of the minimum lot size or greatly reducing it, which would open the floodgates for the demolition of existing housing adjacent to all our commercial streets. According to the staff report, there are 43 blocks of R3 and R4 zones that would be subject to spanning under the 60,000 minimum lot size requirement. That means hundreds of tenants’ homes will be put at risk as yet another incentive is given to landlords to demolish and redevelop rent-stabilized properties. 

If the City Council continues to allow spanning and eliminates or greatly reduces the minimum lot size requirement, the pace of development and demolition of rent-stabilized housing will quicken.  I don’t see how this fits with the city’s Vision 2020 goals concerning neighborhood integrity. 

When the city was pushing for mixed-use developments, the official line was that mixed-use would “take the pressure” off residential neighborhoods by directing development toward Santa Monica Boulevard.  Now the city wants to create more incentives for developers to build more mixed-use but at the expense of the housing for long term rent-stabilized tenants as well as neighborhood integrity.  Spanning is yet another threat to existing affordable housing.

Frankly, it is unclear if the staff has given much thought to how lot spanning will impact West Hollywood tenants.  In a city that was founded to protect tenants, you would think that the preservation of existing affordable rent-stabilized housing would be part of the thought process when City Hall staff are making these recommendations.  When you read the staff report it is clear that tenant protection was not even part of the staff’s equation in making their recommendation.  Protecting existing tenants was simply not on the staff’s radar.

Simply eliminating lot spanning would help maintain the quality of life and our urban environment by ensuring setbacks and green space are preserved.  It would ensure that trees remain part of West Hollywood’s landscape.  If the Council is hell-bent on keeping open an option for lot spanning, which I strongly advocate against, then it must keep the 60,000 square foot minimum lot size requirement and add more stringent neighborhood compatibility measures in order to discourage these sorts of projects and avoid piecemeal destruction of residential neighborhoods. 

Alternatively, if the Council insists on maintaining lot spanning, then we need the city to adopt a “one for one” replacement of affordable housing in these sorts of developments, an issue the city has long avoided discussing.

While we can count on Councilmember Lauren Meister to express neighborhood concerns and challenge the staff’s assumptions, we can’t just sit back and hope for the best.  I am hoping you will contact your favorite Council members or attend the Council meeting to ensure your voice is heard.  We have already lost too much rent-stabilized housing and we need to insist that there should be a firewall between commercial and residentially zoned properties. 

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About Steve Martin
Steve Martin is a former West Hollywood City Council member and mayor, former president of the Stonewall Democratic Club and author of West Hollywood's successful term limits initiative, Prop. C.

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JF1
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JF1

This project is somewhat unique in that the majority of it does span Santa Monica Blvd with the small portion on the residential lot. I believe we need this type of mix-use and support the project.

Mark Elliot
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Mark Elliot

Bravo to Steve for his presentation to Council tonight. “How many times does the Planning Commission need to kill this before we put a stake though it’s heart?” Line of the night!

Mike Dolan
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Mike Dolan

I don’t want to be redundant. So, I will completely agree with the commenters: James Francis, WehoJim, Manny. The authors point-of-view is clear and favors special interest. I for one think in our city that geographically is odd and the need for spanning is required due to this as the city keeps up to the demand of affordable housing. Simply wanting a one-for-one would end up none. Spanning, in select areas is a balanced approach to the challenging layout of our city.

James Francis
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James Francis

This is wreaking havoc on all our rentals, with no alternative for people to easily find another rent controlled apartment. Furthermore, we as tenants who potentially or will be displaced due to demolition or construction, there is few options for us to rent another unit in West Hollywood without competing with other fellow residents or us losing to air bnb’s which are suppose to be illegal or inflated rents that will only allow higher income populations to move into the city and drive the fixed income residents out! This is why I have moved out of the northeast! They have… Read more »

WehoJim
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WehoJim

Thanks for your article Steve, but I can’t understand why you or others are continuously trying to create policies that go nowhere. Don’t we want to incentivize projects that encourage market rate and affordable housing? Why are people trying to nitpick for no end by wasting staff’s limited resources and time. Doing two projects creates double the number of driveways, loading zones, and lobbies. I want my neighborhood to be pedestrian friendly and it seems like your opposing projects like this to no end. Yes, it’s an ugly project but aren’t we better off with one driveway as opposed to… Read more »

Joshua88
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Joshua88

Helpful article, Mr Martin.

Why contact only my favorite CC members?
I sent an email to ALL of them.

Thank you.

Vigilant
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Vigilant

The Planning Commission was correct. Lot spanning should not be allowed. The integrity of our neighborhoods and value of our rent stabilized structures are foundational to West Hollywood and the City Council should stand behind and re endorse that fact. Often City Hall and the planners have a limited view of the values that the city espouses. Integrity should trump this wrong headed proposal.

Eli Rivera
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Eli Rivera

What’s happened to my beloved urban village of WEHO. I lived on Laurel ave and 930 Westbourne. I lived and worked mostly in our hood and was able to walk,shop and hang easily in the hood. The landlords don’t care about WEHO history or iconography .They don’t live in WEHO so all it is to them is a cash cow,to milk . Alls good in the name of profit. Screw community.

Jake Lee
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Jake Lee

I’m all for development of West Hollywood as long as historic buildings and significant architecture is preserved. Higher end renters usually means that people aren’t moving out every month and abandoning mattresses, sofas, shelving units and other garbage on the sidewalks. Nicer developments ensures that property owners have a vested interest in keeping West Hollywood clear of homeless encampments. Lastly, rent control is unfair to property owners who have modern day mortgages, pay modern day taxes and maintenance fees but can only collect rents that are circa 1978. Let the free market do what it does best. If rents go… Read more »

Joshua88
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Joshua88

Interesting that you think higher-end renters are never slobs, never disrespect property or people, and always put their trash in appropriate receptacles. I guess you did not know Mr Ed Buck.

As a long-time renter, the prop owners care far less than some tenants do, as evidenced by sheer neglect and reluctance to maintain on the mandated schedule. They collect their 1978 rent from their west side mansions.

There is no such thing as a “free market.“
Developers want subsidies to do what developers do. Etc.

Vigilant
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Vigilant

Mr. Lee was the neighborhood watch captain that lived 2 1/2 blocks from Ed Buck and it seems unrealistic to think the activities of Mr. Buck would have escaped view. Anyone in the vicinity of Mr. Buck for less than 5 minutes would have known he was radioactive and a menace on multiple levels.

James Francis
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James Francis

I feel your post was disingenuous and uncompassionate of those who are Rent Burdened and displaced from this city on a regular monthly basis since landlords want more money or developers want to rent a property that is too expensive for existing residents to rent. Now we must be displaced and priced out since you referred to as higher end renters. What about existing fixed income renters? You are saying to move where we can afford? We were able to afford until landlords use tactics of raising rents that what is allowed, renting to corporate an temporary or student air… Read more »

Robert
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Robert

This is an important discussion. I see the logic of your requirement to build one affordable unit for every one demolished by the project. However, I don’t think it goes far enough. We have an affordable housing crisis that is causing the WeHo and LA in general to be unaffordable for most people earning less that $100,000 per year. I’d propose that the city require two units built for every one affordable unit replaced. Or perhaps require that 10% of all units must rent at 50% lower than market rate and another 10% rent at 25% lower than market rate.… Read more »

Manny
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Manny

Where you been Robert? For over 30 years, West Hollywood has required that 20% of units in a new residential development be affordable units. This local policy has created more affordable units than any other city in the region.

Alison
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Alison

But the developers have an option of paying the City a fee to get out of that requirement. Many do.

Manny
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Manny

That’s right Alison, and those fees go directly to constructing exclusively affordable units in buildings like the new Blue Hibiscus on Detroit. So, don’t think those fees go any place else other than for the purpose of expanding the city’s affordable housing stock. We should be proud of what this city has done to address this issue.

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

20% does not equal one for one replacement. We have also lost way more affordable housing than we have created in the last 30 years.

Manny
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Manny

Maybe….But the city didn’t “create” the ones that we’ve lost. They were sold off by the owner of the property (not the city) possibly because after 30 years the were no longer profitable or sustainable. The units that the city has “created” through the inclusionary housing program or through new construction thanks to in-lieu fees will always be affordable and sustainable.

Robert
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Robert

Manny, I’ve been here since ‘95. 20% isn’t enough and there isn’t enough for middle income residents. In fact, there’s nothing for middle income residents. My concern is that we’re becoming a neighborhood with an unhealthy balance of residents and not enough opportunity for people in the middle to contribute.

chloe
Guest

Lauren IS my go-to person. I don’t know who is for or against this (I can guess though).The entire idea is horrible. How many of these housing projects (at Park Avenue prices) do we need (I am still stunned by 21 hotels!)???? Further how many are actually occupied? And at what base rent? Many have western exposures – hot as hell and far to bright at sunset-not my favorite. And they front on feeder streets – a/k/a major thoroughfares that are spewing fumes and noise. This is not NYC. Should the council allow ‘spanning’ then they betray the raison d’être… Read more »

learntobeajournalist
Guest
learntobeajournalist

You’re projecting what you want a city of 1.9 square miles to be. A city that borders one of the wealthiest zip codes in the world. I’m almost retired and I struggle financially but at some point I will move because I don’t stand in the way of growth. Let the market determine the prices. I’d never be a landlord in L.A. All these renter strikes, new laws making it harder to evict people. Unless I was rich enough to not care if I lost money, I’d never build in L.A. with the endless laws and high taxes. What you… Read more »

learntobeajournalist
Guest
learntobeajournalist

You’re projecting what you want a city of 1.9 square miles to be. A city that borders one of the wealthiest zip codes in the world. I’m almost retired and I struggle financially but at some point I will move because I don’t stand in the way of growth. Let the market determine the prices. I’d never be a landlord in L.A. All these renter strikes, new laws making it harder to evict people. Unless I was rich enough to not care if I lost money, I’d never build in L.A. with the endless laws and high taxes. What you… Read more »

WeHoMikey
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WeHoMikey

Chloe – we can all “go to” Lauren, but she has but one vote on the Council. We need to make sure the other 4 members know how strongly voters feel – and we need to convey to them that we will vote someone else into office in the next election.
We have failed to do so in the past, it’s time we used a new strategy.

Art Scotti
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Art Scotti

Hear, hear!!!

Woody McBreairty
Guest
Woody McBreairty

It doesn’t look like this project is going forward any time soon. The small houses included in the development on the south side of West Knoll are all being repainted, some with new doors & windows, new sprinkler systems installed, new trees planted & one got a new addition. I live directly across West Knoll from these houses & their has been inside & outside work going on on each & every one of them for quite some time.

Jonathan Simmons
Guest
Jonathan Simmons

I believe the on house, farthest west, next to the white Spanish condo complexes WILL REMAIN AS A SINGLE FAMILY HOME (I think it was a consession the the expensive Spanish condos. It’s been rented out virtually uninterrupted (short turn over between renters) as long as I can remember. I think a quick paint and fix with a 7 to $8,000 or more in nice extra income. But it has been so many years, there can’t be much left but the Notorious Delays with getting permits, pre, during and especially the final sign off after totally complete. (I think permitting… Read more »