When the Frank Gehry-designed giant retail-residential project is built on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards (just a few hundred feet north of the West Hollywood border), it likely will also feature a modified intersection at that same corner. A Los Angeles City Council subcommittee on Wednesday approved eliminating the merging lane from eastbound Sunset to southbound Crescent Heights and replacing it with a dedicated right-turn-only lane.
The Public Works and Gang Reduction subcommittee unanimously approved the “street vacation” of this merging lane, which means the land will automatically revert back to adjacent 8150 Sunset property. Project developer Townscape Partners plans to convert the merging lane, along with the adjacent triangle-shaped traffic island, into a public plaza with a large fountain.
While Townscape will own the land currently occupied by the merging lane, the City of Los Angeles will retain ownership of the land currently occupied by the traffic island but allow Townscape to landscape it for the plaza.
Meanwhile, the bus stop that currently sits on that traffic island will be relocated a block east to the southwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Laurel Avenue (in front of the CB2 furniture store in the 8000 Sunset shopping plaza).
With the merging lane from eastbound Sunset to southbound Crescent Heights eliminated, a new right-turn-only turn lane on Sunset will be created. A dedicated right-turn traffic signal will also be installed. However, vehicles making the right turn at that intersection will have to make what amounts to a 130-degree turn since Crescent Heights curves to the west just below Sunset.
This plan still needs final approval from the full Los Angeles City Council, but that appears to be just a formality at this point. In issues affecting a single council district, the 15-member city council generally follows the wishes of the council member representing that district. Councilmember David Ryu, whose 4th District includes this area, indicated at Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting that he fully supports the “street vacation.”
Ryu cited safety as the number one reason for his backing.
“Improved safety for pedestrians should always be our top priority,” said Ryu. “The LA DOT (Department of Transportation) report [indicates] it will be a safer pedestrian experience at the intersection by reducing the length of the crossing and interaction with vehicles.”
As it is currently configured, the southern side of this Sunset-Crescent Height intersection includes a traffic island on each side, thus forcing pedestrians to cross the roadway and interact with vehicles three times to get to the other side – from the sidewalk to traffic island across the larger swath of road to the next traffic island and then to the sidewalk on the other side.
Meanwhile, that existing merging lane onto southbound Crescent Heights has always been considered dangerous due to the extreme angle at which it merges. Drivers have to turn their heads far back to see the oncoming southbound traffic.
Several local activists are opposed to the street vacation plan, believing it will worsen traffic at the perpetually crowded Sunset-Crescent Heights intersection, which already has a grade of F. They point out that under the proposed new configuration, large trucks making the hairpin turn right from eastbound Sunset to southbound Crescent Heights will have to swing across two lanes of traffic to complete the turn.
They also argue that moving the bus stop a block east to Sunset and Laurel is impractical.
“The sidewalk is especially narrow there. The 8000 Sunset complex isn’t setback much from the street,” said neighborhood activist Keith Nakata.
Another neighbor, Rory Barish, contends the street vacation is really about aesthetics.
“It’s not about public safety, it’s about aesthetics and it’s about making the project larger,” said Barish, who lives nearby on Havenhurst Avenue. “They don’t like the way the [traffic] island looks. They don’t want a bus stop there because it doesn’t look good. The people who go in and out of buses don’t look good when they do it in front of multi-million-dollar condos. So, therefore they’re going to close up a public right of way so that they can increase it for aesthetics.”
Plans call for the 8150 Sunset project to have 219 apartment units and 30 condominiums. Twenty-eight of those units will be for low- or moderate-income residents but the rest will be market rate. With five buildings planned for the site, it will also have 65,000 square feet of retail space, including 23,000 square feet of restaurant space, 12,000 square feet of shops, a 25,000 square foot supermarket, plus a bank and dance/yoga studio.
Barish concedes the current traffic island, composed just of dirt and concrete, is not attractive. She suggests that instead of eliminating it, it be beautified with plantings and a sculpture.
Steven Luftman, another neighbor, questions whether Townscape will be able to finance this massive development project, which could cost several hundred million dollars. He pointed to a recent article on the CoStar real estate business website that reported that Townscape is searching for investors for the project. Luftman said he feared that Townscape might run out of money and only partially complete the project.
“We don’t want to see the buildings [currently on the 8150 Sunset site] demolished, but nothing built,” said Luftman. “It would be tragic if it ends up as nothing but a parking lot on Sunset and Crescent Heights.”
Ryu was not deaf to these concerns. As a condition of approval, Ryu insisted that Townscape put a $2 million bond into an escrow account immediately. Thus, if eliminating the merging lane proves to be a mistake, the city will have money to restore it. Likewise, if Townscape only partially finishes the plaza, the city will have the money to either complete the plaza or restore the merging lane.
Renee Weitzer, Ryu’s senior advisor on land use and development issues, explained to WEHOville that if the newly configured intersection works as studies suggests it will and there is no need to restore the merging lane, then the city gets to keep the $2 million and use it for traffic improvements elsewhere.
Ryu also added a condition stating that if the project undergoes a substantial redesign, then the property owners must reapply for the street vacation.
Also, Townscape cannot close the merging lane until the dedicated right turn lane is installed. And all that work must be completed within two years of receiving final approval or the street vacation expires.
WEHOville reached out to Townscape for comment but at press time had not received a reply.
Despite Ryu’s support, a planning and land use subcommittee of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council voted unanimously on Monday night to oppose the street vacation. The full neighborhood council is expected to vote on the matter at its Nov. 20 meeting. The full Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on the street vacation sometime in December.
The 8150 Sunset project received the blessing of the Los Angeles City Council in November 2016. However, it was delayed when activists filed lawsuits against the project itself and to save the historically designated mid-century modern Lytton Savings building (now a Chase bank).
The project survived all those legal challenges and Townscape has now obtained the demolition permits for the existing shopping center building (which includes a McDonalds) and the Lytton Savings building. A demolition date has not yet been scheduled, but the CoStar article indicated Townscape has asked Chase to vacate the bank building by Dec. 31. WEHOville has been unable to verify that date.
Renee Weitzer said Townscape has not yet obtained the building permits for the project and is at least six months away, if not longer, from getting them.
The 8150 Sunset Blvd. site is where the famed Garden of Allah hotel complex sat for almost 40 years. The Garden of Allah buildings were demolished in 1959 to make way for the Lytton Savings building and shopping center currently on the site.