Residents living in the West Hollywood West neighborhood scored a victory of sorts on Monday when the city agreed to send changes to the proposed Restoration Hardware project at 8564 Melrose Ave. at Westmount to the Planning Commission rather than approving them at the staff level.
By sending it to the Planning Commission, residents will be allowed to give their input regarding the changes, which include transferring the public space from the street-level courtyard area to the roof, adding a rooftop deck with a gazebo, moving mechanical equipment from the roof to the rear ground level and eliminating wholesale use of the building.
“West Hollywood West Residents Association is very pleased that the city has decided to send the applicant’s request to Planning Commission rather than approve the design at the staff level,” said WHWRA board member Eric d’Arbeloff. “The applicant is proposing to alter both the design and the use … therefore, all of the applicant’s requests should be studied and reviewed with an opportunity for public input. The Planning Commission is the ideal and appropriate venue for this.”
Restoration Hardware is tentatively scheduled to go before the Planning Commission’s design review subcommittee on Aug. 8 and before the full Planning Commission on Aug. 15.
John Keho, the city’s planning manager, explained that because of WHWRA’s vocal complaints about the changes, city staff members opted to let the Planning Commission make the final decision.
“Staff feels that the changes are minor [and therefore could be approved at staff level], but the developer held a neighborhood meeting to get input,” said Keho. “There were still concerns, so we decided to send it to the Planning Commission for review.”
An upscale furniture and home furnishings store, Restoration Hardware held a neighborhood meeting on July 8 to show off the designs at its current West Hollywood location at 8722 Beverly Blvd. (adjacent to Cedars Sinai Medical Center), a store that will close once the Melrose location opens.
Sandy Hutchens, a consultant with the project, said Restoration Hardware welcomes the review by Planning Commission.
“We are okay with the city moving directly to the Planning Commission,” said Hutchens. “Some of the neighbors did not fully understand that we were upgrading a very basic building and making it a more sophisticated addition to Melrose and a building more in line with the quality that RH stands for.”
In November 2012, the City Council approved plans for the two-story, 30,000-square-foot building with 130 parking spaces on two underground levels. At the time, Restoration Hardware intended to occupy two-thirds of the building, approximately 22,000 square feet.
The neighborhood association filed a lawsuit to stop the project. The association believed an environmental impact report (EIR) was needed. In early January 2013, that petition was denied.
In March 2013, Restoration Hardware decided to make the Melrose location into its California flagship store. Consequently, Restoration Hardware wanted to take over the entire space to make it the size of its other flagship stores around the country.
Ben Soleimani, the president of BMB Investment Corp, which owns the property, agreed to the plan. Restoration Hardware assumed oversight over construction and hired Sausalito-based architect James Gillam, who has designed other Restoration Hardware buildings, to bring the design up to its standards.
“We want everything done to our specifications,” said Bill Kalff, Restoration Hardware’s vice president of gallery construction, at the July 8 meeting. “Our quality is much higher than what was originally proposed. That’s why we assumed control of the construction.”
Under the new plans, the building’s two-story, 35-feet high Melrose-facing façade will be lowered to a one-story, 20-feet height. The front of the building will be more ornate, but the public courtyard area will be reduced in size. The back portion of the building, abutting the neighborhood, will still be 35 feet tall.
Restoration Hardware wants to open the entire rooftop area and display its outdoor furniture there. That area will become the public space and be free for anyone to use during business hours.
While some residents fear the rooftop space will be used for events, which can create noise and disturb neighbors, DeMonty Price, Restoration Hardware’s senior vice president of retail stores, said that will not happen. He points out that the outdoor space at the current Beverly Boulevard store has been used for three events (including the July 8 neighborhood meeting) since opening two years ago.
“The roof will not be an event space,” said Price. “We get requests to do weddings and parties [at the Beverly Boulevard store] all the time. We always turn them down.”
Since the roof will be used for public space, two elevators will be needed to access the roof. Those elevator shafts will add 10 feet to the overall height of the building. Additionally, the company plans to have a 20-foot-tall, bird-cage-like gazebo on the roof, bringing the maximum height for one portion of the roof to 55 feet.
At the same time, the mechanical equipment, including the air conditioning compressors, will be moved to the rear of the ground level. To reduce the noise from those compressors, Restoration Hardware plans to upgrade the equipment.
“It will be 30 percent quieter,” said Hutchens. “The compressors will be top of the line.”
Other residents are charging that the building, which was approved for half-retail, half-wholesale use, will now be entirely retail under those proposed changes. Price explained that the company’s business model has changed drastically in the past decade, that people now come to the store to make orders, which are then shipped to them.
“We are no longer a cash-and-carry business,” said Price.
Kalff reported the two-level underground parking will be completed in September, at which time they hope to proceed with the building, pending the city’s approval. He estimates construction will take about a year. They hope to be open for business in mid-2015.
Restoration Hardware has a 20-year lease on the building with options for two five-year renewals. The store will employ 80 people.
“We intend to be here for a long time,” said Price. “We want to be a good neighbor and will work with the neighborhood.”