In a Split Vote, Historic Preservation Commission Rejects 927 Palm Project

927 Palm Ave. (Architect Ed Levin)

A plan to construct a senior-care facility behind two historic properties on Palm Avenue received a split vote from West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission during its Monday night teleconferencing meeting on Zoom. The Commission’s vote was 3-3, but since a majority of the Commission failed to approve the project, it was denied a “certificate of appropriateness” for fitting in with the historic structures.

The two bungalows at 927 and 931 Palm Ave., just north of Cynthia Street, were designated as historic landmarks in 2013. Property owner West Hollywood-based Dylan Investment Properties is seeking to rehabilitate the historic homes while building a four-story, 33,460-square-foot, 48-room, L-shaped building at 923 Palm Ave. that extends into the backyard of the two historic properties.

The facility would be used as a “memory care” facility for aging patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Project plans call for the historic bungalow at 927 Palm to be used for administrative offices, while the bungalow at 931 Palm would be used for residential housing for a total of 49 units on the property.

The Commission previously heard this project in July 2017 but rejected it in a 4-1 vote. However, three of the four commissioners who rejected it are no longer on the Commission.

Since that time, the project has been redesigned somewhat with its façade altered to be more compatible with the bungalows. The project was designed by WeHo architect Ed Levin, who also serves on the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). Consequently, Levin was not allowed to vote on the project or present it (one of his associates did the presentation).

Impact on Historic Properties

Federal historic property guidelines allow new structures to be built adjacent to the historic homes, provided that “when visible and in close proximity to historic buildings, the new construction must be subordinate to these [historic] buildings.”

Commissioners Gail Ostergren, Matt Dubin and Lola Davidson all voted against approving the certificate of appropriateness. Ostergren said the sheer size of the new four-story building would automatically overwhelm the one-story historic structures. The issue of subordination was what caused HPC to reject the project in 2017.

On the matter of “setting,” the question was whether the new building would alter the intent of the historic designation which seeks, at least in part, to preserve a feeling of what the Old Sherman district was like when the bungalows were built in 1902, an era when homes tended to have large back yards.

James Stevens, vice president of Dylan Investment, contended that the setting had long ago been compromised since there are many four-story apartment/condominium buildings on Palm Avenue, including one immediately north of the site. He noted the City Council’s historic designation was only for the houses, not of the yard, and the Council’s discussion clearly assumed the backyards would eventually be developed.

Likewise, he presented reports by three leading historic assessment firms (Rincon Consultants, Chattel Inc. and Historic Resources Group) saying the development plan was appropriate for the site.

Stevens also pointed out the Commission had approved certificates of appropriateness for three other projects that went further than what he was proposing – Robertson Lane relocating the Factory building to elsewhere on the site, French Market removing the roof so a new building can be built above it and San Vicente Inn attaching a four-story building to the rear of a historic bungalow.

Commissioners Yawar Charlie, Jake LaJoie and Francesco Gallo seemed to agree with Stevens’s reasoning and voted to approve the project.

Public Commenters Opposed

Of the 14 people speaking during the public comment period, all opposed the project. Resident Matt Lundin said the new building was “out of character” with the bungalows, while resident Keith Patterson said the project was “ill conceived” especially for a busy street like Palm Avenue, which is often used as a cut through street.

Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney, the couple who wrote the papers nominating the bungalows for historic designation in 2013, said the new building was too large and out of scale with the bungalows.

“We really wish these properties were looked at as being rare, special, cherished rather than a hindrance,” said Eggert.

The residents who currently live in the 923, 927 and 931 Palm Ave. properties held a large viewing party, organized by Duff Bennett, who lives in the small, non-historically designated house at the rear of the 931 Palm property. Many of those attending this viewing party also commented to the Commission over Zoom.

“Preservation is about ensuring that our urban landscapes reflect more than just profit margins or the whims of developers, private membership clubs or real estate speculators. It’s about working to see that we honor and reflect our city’s history following the same rules and guidelines to benefit the general public as a whole,” said Bennett.

The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also opposed the project, believing the new building would overwhelm the original buildings. Member Roy Oldenkamp called the new building a “giant monolith behind the bungalows.”

Commissioner Matt Dubin noted the two historic bungalows have been allowed to deteriorate since being designated in 2013. “The fact they’ve been designated for seven years with or without a Mills Act contract is really emblematic of a problem we have in our city of designating properties and then not taking care of them,” said Dubin. “We should have started on rehabilitating these properties the minute they got designated. That is actually what we should be doing as a city and as a body.”

The project next moves to the Planning Commission for consideration. While the HPC’s failure to approve the certificate of appropriateness may influence the Planning Commission’s deliberations, that Commission can still approve the project and the certificate of appropriateness.

When the project appeared before the Planning Commission’s Design Review subcommittee on July 9, it received mixed reviews with the commissioners liking the park-like atmosphere the project was trying to create in the limited amount of green space available. As for the new building’s appearance, Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro felt the new building was too similar looking to the historic bungalows, preferring the new building be in high contrast to the bungalows to make them stand out more as “jewels.”

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Jonathan Simmons
Jonathan Simmons
1 month ago

These old homes were never anything but domestic or low paid workers for the large estates of Beverly Hills when BH was created and weho was an unincorporated part (not a city) of Los Angeles County. The property site and design should make use in design and size and use of outdoor portions of the apartment complex. The style is sooo three years ago (and ugly even then). Dump the old shakes and redesign with a more traditional design around a large gated courted yard for seniors to have and feel safe going outdoors for health and socialization. NOT A… Read more »

Vigilant
Vigilant
1 month ago

The architect for this project is a good and capable architect. Most of his designs simply do not fit in our residential neighborhoods. They belong in commercial districts along main boulevards in order to shine. They are over scaled for West Hollywood in perception even though they may conform to the code. Mr. Levin’s buildings need to breath in a location befitting them such as Mid Wilshire or similar locations where they could outshine some of the recent deficiently designed structures that appear temporary even though new. In order to accomplish this the architect would be required to deal with… Read more »

Duff Bennett
Duff Bennett
1 month ago

Mr. Mills, thank you for your thoughtful article. The July 27th Historic Preservation Commission hearing illustrates that the friends of Palm Ave are in complete agreement with Dylan Investments, Rincon Consultants, Chattel, Payton Hall and City Staff regarding the urgent need of repairs to our Landmarks.    Throughout the meeting City Staff, Rincon, Chattel and Paden Hall emphasize Dylan Investments LLC’s desire, intent and priority to return our Historical Homes back to the beautiful and rare local Landmark’s they are by making the required improvements that have been needed for the past 15 years.    We encourage them to begin this process… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Duff Bennett
WeHo Resident
WeHo Resident
1 month ago

Is it any surprise that these historic houses are being allowed to deteriorate. They are owned by a developer that has no interest into preserving them or improving quality of life for the renters. There goal is to get this commercial project approved and deteriorating houses helps their cause. The planning Commission should send a clear message that this project is dead. Then the property owner could focus on renovating the structures to maximize rental income or simply sell the lots to someone else that either wishes to live there or to appropriately take care of the houses as rental… Read more »

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  WeHo Resident

Code enforcement should be over there and citing the owners for any upkeep issues. Typical developers trick- let the place rot and then complain that it’s rotting.

Vigilant
Vigilant
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom

Deferred maintenance endorsed by the city.

Keith
Keith
1 month ago

Well finally some good news. This neighborhood is on the decline. Rents are unaffordable, streets are filthy. Drunks, drug addicts, and homeless. Do something about that.

Earl Eason
Earl Eason
1 month ago

I haven’t been on this website in a while. Now that I’m back I realize why — it’s so depressing! I live in the ultimate NIMBY city, where people want to preserve the idea of what it looked like in 1896 while rejecting plans for a project that would provide elderly people in need of care with a place to live. Disgusting. I wish Jeanne Dobrin were alive to protest this vote. But she died. In a senior facility outside West Hollywood, where no one wants housing for the elderly (or those with low income) if it might slightly obstruct… Read more »

WeHo Resident
WeHo Resident
1 month ago
Reply to  Earl Eason

I fully support both senior housing (I’m not that far away) as well as affordable housing. The number of historically designated homes in WeHo is very small. There clearly are other locations where a senior housing facility could be built.

I believe you are conflating two issues by assuming that anyone opposing this development (at this location) would oppose having a senior care facility, and by extension low income housing, in their neighborhood. I would welcome both in the neighborhood… just not at the expense of essentially destroying two of a small number of historically designated residential lots.

C.R.
C.R.
1 month ago
Reply to  WeHo Resident

I used to live right across the street at 930 Palm Ave. This entire street is crammed with huge apartment complexes, packing in as many people as possible. It’s unintentionally amusing to me to see this project now wedged into it all right across the street from my old building surrounding the quaint tiny old house.There is tons of traffic on this street and it’s already ridiculous trying to park there on the street. Isn’t there anywhere else in the city you can put this place that is better suited?