West Hollywood residents packed the City Council Chambers on Thursday night for a Planning Commission meeting on the controversial development proposed for 8899 Beverly. The public hearing was continued to Aug. 7 after the meeting took an unexpected turn.
Commissioner Sue Beckner announced that the developers had submitted a letter dated July 15 with new information about the proposed project, which would nearly double the size of the existing office building, turning it a combination of condominiums and retail space with an underground parking garage and adjacent townhouses and apartments. The city’s Community Development staff, in an analysis of the project for the Planning Commission, has recommended that it not be approved.
In light of the letter, Beckner suggested continuing discussion of the issue to a future meeting so that the developer could submit a revised proposal and the public could review the new information.
“What we’re looking at and what the public’s looking at are two different things,” said Commissioner Heidi Shink, who agreed with the suggestion to continue consideration of the proposal.
Commissioner John Altschul, however, said he thought the changes should be presented at the meeting. If they proved difficult to understand, then the commissioners could continue the issue to a future meeting, Altschul said.
The commission voted 4-2 on a motion to go ahead and hear comments from the public last night while also continuing the public hearing to Aug. 7. Those who spoke last night also will be allowed to speak at the hearing next month.
Jeff Haber, who represented the developer, a partnership of Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills and Angelo Gordon & Co. of New York, said the revised proposal addressed some of the objections raised in an analysis of the project by the city’s Community Development staff.
Haber said the developer would agree to increase the number of low-income housing units from 12 to 17. The letter to the commission said this would constitute “the largest number of affordable units ever built in the western part of the City.” The Community Development analysis of the project raised questions over the long-term financial sustainability of the proposed low-income housing.
In the letter, the developer also noted that residents of the nearby West Hollywood West neighborhood, composed largely of single-family houses, have objected to the 13 town homes proposed along Rosewood Avenue. The developer said it was willing to instead build 10 single-family houses.
After Haber spoke, the floor was opened for a flood of public comments. Among the more than 20 people who spoke were some who supported the project, some who opposed it and a a few who seemed flummoxed or frustrated that they hadn’t seen the proposed changes in advance of the meeting.
During public comments, remarks about the project included:
- That it doesn’t reflect the goals of the city’s General Plan.
- That it’s “too big for the room” and that the scale and massing don’t fit.
- That it “will loom over the neighborhood” and is “an invasion of a community.”
- That it is a “proposed monstrosity” and “a nightmare to look at.”
- That it is an example of “exceptional design” and “a beautiful and exciting design.”
- That is has the potential to support new retail and increase pedestrians traffic to the area.
- That it complements the creative energy of the city.
- That it would be a “dramatic improvement” to the ICM Building that it seeks to convert and expand.
- That it would be a “great addition to the neighborhood.”
- That it’s “out of touch” with the neighborhood.
The developer’s letter suggested some aggravation with the Community Development staff’s recommendation that the project not be approved. It also hinted that Townscape will take legal action if its request for an exception to the zoning ordinance covering the area is denied.
Noting that the staff report referred to the “overall design at the street level” as “generally uninspired,” the developer argued that the design had “unusual merit” and had been lauded by the Planning Commission’s own Design Review Subcommittee.
“Subcommittee members enthusiastically endorsed the design of the 8899 Beverly building, referred to it as ‘elegant and understated’ and ‘absolutely sensational,’ ” the letter said. “…Contrary to the discussion in the Staff Report, the Subcommittee unanimously expressed support for the proposed changes to the 8899 Beverly building.”
The developer said the city cannot deny it the exception it is seeking to the zoning code applicable to the area because the project as proposed meets requirements for such an exception by including low-income housing and other measures.
“Under applicable state law and the city’s municipal code, the city may not deny the project, since it qualifies for a density bonus and provides affordable housing,” it says.
The Community Development staff is expected to issue an updated report and recommendation on the project prior to the public hearing now slated for Aug. 7.