Last minute alterations to the controversial 8899 Beverly Blvd. project would leave low-income tenants looking at but segregated from amenities offered to the more affluent, a practice that has been dubbed a “poor door” policy by opponents of it in other cities. That is one of the issues that has led West Hollywood city planners to recommend again that the Planning Commission reject on Thursday a request from the developers for a major exception to current zoning standards.
A public hearing last month frustrated and confused local residents who learned at the last minute that the developer was making unpublicized changes to the project to try to address the concerns of city planners. The Planning Commission continued that hearing until this coming Thursday.
The developer, a partnership of Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills and Angelo Gordon & Co., a New York City investment firm, wants to nearly double the existing 90,000-square-foot building, which is ten stories high and formerly housed the ICM talent agency. It now is primarily an office building that also houses some shops and the Madeo restaurant. The developer proposes to add wings on the north, east and west sides of the, convert the existing office space to 55 condominiums and convert a third-floor parking garage to offices and 10 apartments for low-income people.
The developer also had proposed building an underground parking garage beneath the current surface parking lot behind the building on Rosewood Avenue. On top of that underground parking garage would be 13 townhouses opening onto Rosewood, a recreation center with an indoor pool and a building containing four apartments for low-income renters.
The revised plan that the Planning Commission will consider Thursday calls for construction on Rosewood of nine single-family houses rather than the townhouses proposed earlier, a building containing seven apartments for low-income renters and an outdoor pool atop the recreation building. Replacing the townhouses with single-family homes addresses concerns raised by some residents of the neighborhood on the other side of Rosewood, which is largely composed of single family homes. They had objected that the townhouses were out of character with their neighborhood.
The developer also is now proposing to make the apartments for low-income renters smaller in size. That addresses an earlier concern by city planners that the relatively large size of the units proposed earlier would make it unfeasible economically to continue to rent them for less than the market rate. And the developer has agreed to pay $1 million into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust fund in lieu of building another three apartments for very-low-income renters.
Even with the changes, the city’s Community Development Department objects to the massive size of the project. Also, in its assessment of the proposed single-family houses, the department says they ” appear to have a generic design with what appears to be two or three different models among the nine single units. The ground floor appears to have large glazed openings that give it a bit of a commercial feel. The repetition of individual building design makes it look like a single development. Each design should be a different and unique design to properly blend into the neighborhood.”
The Community Development report also notes that “the current configuration has the affordable units looking down on a pool they are prohibited from using. This very obvious delineation of amenities runs contrary to West Hollywood’s policies of inclusiveness and equal access for all … Housing staff remains unable to support the proposed project because there would be separate amenity areas for the affordable housing tenants and the market-rate homeowners.”
Such “poor door” practices have sparked outrage in recent months in New York City and London, prompting local elected officials in those cities to say they will take action to ban them.
Because 8899 Beverly was constructed 31 years before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city, the building as it is does not have to meet current zoning requirements. The zone in which it is located limits a building’s height to three stories, and the 8899 Beverly Building is ten stories high. Also, the floor area of the building is 3.3 times the size of the lot on which it sits. The zoning code requires that new buildings in the area have no more than 1.3 times the square footage of the lot on which they sit. The Townscape proposal would increase the 8899 Beverly building to 6.1 times the square footage of the lot. The addition of housing for low-income people is a way developers are able to get waivers under state law from meeting certain local zoning requirements.
The developer has 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 said in a letter to the city.
Townscape was a major donor to opponents of the successful campaign to establish term limits for West Hollywood City Council members in 2013, giving $2,500 to that effort. Its principals, John Irwin and Tyler Siegel, and members of their families donated $1,500 to Councilmember John Duran’s re-election campaign last year and $500 to the campaign of Councilmember Jeffrey Prang.
In May, Townscape managed to get a state “environmental leadership development project” (ELDP) designation for a controversial project at the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards. Nearby residents raised concerns over parking, rooftop sound, traffic, demolition of the Chase Bank building on the site, which some see as historic, and the 16-story height of a proposed apartment building along Havenhurst. With the ELDP designation, opponents of the project will have no more than 270 days to take legal action to stop it. That is an exceptionally short period in the California legal system.
Four members of the West Hollywood City Council voted to send a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown opposing the ELDP designation. Councilmember Duran abstained, saying the complex proposal had arrived before the Council too late for him to adequately study it.
The Planning Department will hear comments from the public and consider the Community Development Department’s recommendation at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the City Council Chambers at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. south of Santa Monica.