The West Hollywood City Council has agreed to let the owner of The Lot extend for three more years its plans to redevelop the 11-acre property, an important part of film industry history and soon to be the home of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.
The Lot’s development history has been fraught, with the Council first approving a development plan in 1993 when the property was owned by Warner Hollywood Studios. Development plans required by the Council describe the setting of a development, identify planning and historic preservation issues and outline the phases of construction. Warner sold the property in 1999 to BA Studios, which submitted a revised development plan to the city in 2003, which was approved in 2007. But because of the recession, the first phase of that plan wasn’t implemented until 2013, when construction was completed on the Formosa South building.
Councilmember John Duran expressed frustration with the development delays, which have been requested by developers citing a “force majeure,” which is a term used to describe something such as a recession or an earthquake that is outside of the developer’s control.
“It’s not been the last five years, it’s been 20 years of delay. What assurance do we have that we are going to make progress on this project?” Duran asked. “If the markets explode again, the bubble bursts again…. then we have another force majeure? ….. At least to my mind, it’s troubling that we keep extending, extending, extending even though the city has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, the past 10 years.”
The modified development plan presented by CIM Group, a Los Angeles property developer, calls for removing only 19, 513 square feet of the existing historic buildings rather than the 166,255 square feet that would have been removed under the plan approved in 2007. That addresses, at least in part, concerns of some who have called for more efforts to preserve the structures, once known as the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios for Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbank, who owned the property in 1919.
Among the historic buildings that won’t be demolished are the Editorial Buildings, the Fairbanks Gym and the Formosa Building along North Formosa Avenue and the Writers Building along Santa Monica Boulevard. The revised plan proposes development of the five-story Plaza Building with 107, 930 square feet of office space and a 5,300 square foot commissary and Courtyard Building, a six- story office building with 92, 070 square feet.
Councilmember John D’Amico and Mayor Abbe Land asked a representative of CIM Group to consider more quickly addressing the long blank wall along the south side of Santa Monica Boulevard ending at Formsa Avenue that is the northern boundary of the lot.
Land described that stretch of sidewalk as “a horribly dark, bleak space as you walk along Santa Monica.” D’Amico asked if the developer could provide some sort of a “public face,” with lighting and art along the wall.