West Hollywood’s Design Review Subcommittee endorsed modifications of the controversial condo project at 826 N. Kings Rd. last night in a discussion that expanded to include implementing the city’s goal of housing for low- and moderate-income people.
The project originally was proposed as a five-story building with 34 housing units, five of which would be available for low- or moderate-income people. It was approved by the Planning Commission in October 2014. But a well-organized campaign against the project by neighbors on Kings Road, which reached a crescendo during the West Hollywood City Council’s March general election and June special election, led the Council to send it back to the Planning Commission to address complaints about the project’s height and its possible impact on traffic and parking.
The revised project is a four-story building with 25 units and no housing for low- or moderate-income people. Instead the developer, Demetri Damos, has agreed to contribute roughly $850,000 to the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Under city law developers of buildings with 10 or more units must make at least 20 percent of them available to low- and moderate-income people or pay a fee to the housing trust fund. That added five units to the 25 units in Darmos’ original proposal. Another four units were added to secure the city’s approval of the building’s overall size.
The revised project drew praise from some of its former opponents, including Cynthia Blatt, who organized the United Neighbors for Responsible Development (UNRED) that appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of the project to the City Council. Blatt stepped back from her controversial previous statement that the city didn’t need more affordable housing and that it instead should be built elsewhere in Los Angeles. In her comments to the Subcommittee, Blatt said she hadn’t opposed more affordable housing in West Hollywood and that she supported the developer’s decision to give money to the affordable housing trust fund rather than build housing for low- and moderate- income people in the building on Kings Road.
But the decision to eliminate the affordable housing also was criticized. “I think it’s a shame that it is considered a sign of progress that we build less housing…” said Mark Hughes, a West Hollywood resident, commenting on the reduction of the number of units. Hughes also criticized the push by Kings Road residents to eliminate the affordable housing. “I grew up in the Deep South and I know what it’s like to hear people say “don’t let those people live in my back yard,” he said.
John Altschul, a Planning Commission member who sits on the Design Review Subcommittee, also spoke to objections residents have raised about building more housing in West Hollywood. “Here we are still debating the issue of where do we put it (affordable housing,” he said. “Do we put it on site or do we put it in someone else’s backyard? This is disturbing.”
Altschul said increased density is inevitable in West Hollywood, given that it sits within the second largest metropolitan area in the United States. “One thing we have to realize is we have to make use of our vertical space,” he said. “Communities are going to go upward.”
Other changes made by Ric Abramson, the project’s architect, include modifying the north side of the building to screen the units from the view of those in the condominium to its north. The project’s front facade now includes two stories on Kings Road, with the additional two stories stepped back on the top of the building.
The revised project was approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Commission on Monday. The project will go back to the Planning Commission for final approval at its September meeting.