An effort by a company representing an unnamed party to block the proposed redevelopment of the San Vicente Inn inspired an unusual confluence tonight of West Hollywood residents, business owners and preservationists to voice their support of the project.
“In the 14 years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen an appeal unite all the disparate elements of the community like this,” said Councilmember John Duran during a City Council hearing on the appeal of the city Planning Commission’s approval of the project. Jen Dunbar, president of the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, also expressed her support of the redevelopment. “After the number of times our organization has come before this Council to oppose projects, I’m thrilled to say we support this,” she said.
The redevelopment is a project of Jeff Klein, owner of the Sunset Tower hotel. Klein is proposing to convert the existing 29-unit motel into an “urban inn” with a total of 32 rooms and a restaurant and off-site parking while preserving the historic character of the existing buildings. The inn’s three buildings on the west side of San Vicente Boulevard north of Santa Monica and the stand-alone Victorian structure on a lot across the street have been designated local cultural historical resources as part of the Old Sherman Thematic Group. That group takes its name from the period in the late 1800s and early 1900s when Moses Sherman, a railroad developer, created the community of Sherman where West Hollywood now lies. Before Klein purchased the property in 2013, the San Vicente Inn had become known as a center of prostitution and illegal drug use.
Neighborhood Planning Support Inc. (NPS) asked that the Council require an environmental impact report as a condition of approving the project. It cited a number of alleged problems with the project, the facts of which were contradicted by a study conducted by the city’s Community Development Department and an outside consultant.
NPS lists its office as a virtual office space on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and is registered with the state as a company in Chatsworth. The company’s president is Mitch Carson, who describes himself online as “the instant celebrity maker” and a motivational speaker, has a history of filing objections to various development projects in Southern California on behalf of clients whose identity he refuses to disclose. When asked by WEHOville tonight to identify the client who is opposed to the San Vicente Inn project, Carson refused to do so.
Before the Council voted unanimously to reject the NPS appeal, more than a dozen local residents came before the Council to express their support of the project and to praise Klein for engaging the community in its planning. Several Council members sharply criticized Carson and NPS. Councilmember John Heilman called out Carson for suggesting in the appeal that he is a West Hollywood resident. “You’re not a resident, and no resident has come forth to support this appeal,” Heilman said. “Who is behind this appeal?” Carson declined to name his client, saying only “they’re not here.” Heilman described the appeal as an effort to delay the project and “try to shake down the developer.”
“This is a specious appeal, it’s frivolous,” Duran said. “It’s designed to create a judicial appeal.” Councilmember Abbe Land said the NPS request “is truly one of the most outrageous appeals because there is no fact in any of what we have read” in the NPS request. “This is an abuse of process.”
Carson has been involved in similar and unsuccessful challenges to developments in Southern California. Working through a company called Good Local Planning Inc. Carson sued the city of Rolling Hills Estates in 2011 to overturn its approval of a plan to convert the Chandler Ranch rock quarry into a golf course and 114 luxury homes. His attorney in that matter declined to name the residents that Carson alleged were opposed to the project. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2013.
In an interview in 2011 with the Daily Breeze newspaper, Carson said Good Local Planning tracks development projects in Southern California. “We are an organization that likes to make sure developers don’t run wild,” he said Carson.
Last October the South Valley Area Planning Commission denied Neighborhood Planning Support’s petition to deny a developer permission to build an apartment building and eventually an office building on a lot occupied by a vacant 124,000-square-foot office building that the Daily News sold to Hearst Communications in 2007.