On a 4-2 vote Thursday night, West Hollywood’s Planning Commission approved relinquishing the city’s rights to the 10-foot-wide strip of land running along 480 feet of Rosewood Avenue, behind the controversial high-rise building at 8899 Beverly Blvd.
When the City Council agreed to the expansion of the 8899 Beverly building in August 2015, its 3-2 approval (council members John D’Amico and Lauren Meister opposed it) did not address the 10-foot “easement” the city has along Rosewood Avenue. The 8899 Beverly project, which is between Robertson Boulevard and Almont Drive, will double the size of the 90,000 square-foot building to include 52 condominiums and 15 apartments for low- and moderate-income people in the 10-story tower, plus nine single-family homes on the parking lot behind the building. The building, erected before West Hollywood became a city in 1984, already is twice the size allowed under current zoning rules for the area.
In 1963, following construction of the 8899 Beverly building, the developer built a five-foot wall and created a 20-foot wide stretch of greenspace along Rosewood to serve as a buffer between the parking lot and the adjacent residential area. In 1967, Los Angeles County placed a 10-foot easement on that 20 feet of green space for future road widening. However, that road widening never occurred and the City of West Hollywood inherited the easement upon incorporation in 1984.
The issue before the Planning Commission on Thursday night was determining whether ceding the rights to that easement was consistent with the city’s General Plan, which guides development in the city. City staff contended that the city has no plans to ever widen Rosewood Avenue, so it is in keeping with the General Plan to give the land back to the owner, Beverly Boulevard Associates, a partnership between Townscape Partners, a Beverly Hills real estate development firm, and Angelo Gordon & Co., a New York City investment firm. Beverly Boulevard Associates purchased the 8899 Beverly building and parking lot in July 2012 for $38.5 million.
However, several residents of West Hollywood West, the surrounding neighborhood, pointed out that the General Plan also addresses issues of open space and trees. They argued that giving the land back would deprive the city of the open space which has become a de facto park for the neighborhood in the past 50 years.
Commissioner Shelia Lightfoot, who voted against vacating the easement, agreed that preservation of greenspace was essential, saying, “You can’t ignore what it is being used for now.” Commissioner Sue Buckner also voted against relinquishing the easement, while Commissioner Roy Huebner was absent.
Commissioner David Aghaei, who became the commission’s chairman during Thursday’s meeting, said that retaining the area for greenspace would go against the original intent of the easement, which was for road widening only. Jeff Haber, a spokesperson for Townscape Partners, pointed out that 1967 documents clearly labeled it as a “road easement.”
Noting that a 4,800-square-foot parcel of land (the size of the entire easement) in that section of town might sell for $1 million or more, West Hollywood West Residents Association (WHWRA) secretary Kimberly Winick questioned why Townscape was asking the city to give back the land without any compensation.
The city is not obligated to return the land, but David DeGrazia, the city’s planning manager, warned that failure to relinquish the easement would prevent the 8899 Beverly project from being constructed as approved by the City Council. Under those plans, the 10-feet easement would serve as the driveways and front yards for the nine single-family homes of the project.
Although the City Council approved the 8899 Beverly building expansion in August 2015, when the project came before the Planning Commission in August 2014, the commissioners voted 4-2 against the project. Commissioner John Altschul criticized the greenspace argument, saying, “We can’t use this to tank a project we don’t like.” Altschul, an attorney, said it was a road easement and would never stand up to a court challenge if the city tried to claim it for greenspace.
Now that the Planning Commission has approved vacating the easement, the issue goes to the City Council for final approval, likely sometime in the next few months.
WHWRA filed a lawsuit against the 8899 Beverly project in December 2015. WHWRA president Richard Giesbret reported that a court hearing on the lawsuit was scheduled for the fall. A June mediation hearing between Townscape, the city and WHWRA reached an impasse.
The commission also approved construction of a 48-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide, two-sided vertical billboard at the Rainbow Bar and Grill at 9015 Sunset Blvd., just east of Doheny Drive. That billboard, which would be on a pole reaching 83 feet in height, will replace the existing two-sided billboard on the Rainbow’s roof.
The item must now go before the City Council for final approval. If the council approves it, the city will enter into a development agreement whereby the billboard owner, Ace Outdoor Advertising, will pay the city $12,450 every four weeks for 20 years.
While the commission’s approval was unanimous, commissioners Shelia Lightfoot and Sue Buckner both lamented that with the new billboard’s installation, the decades old Rainbow Bar and Grill sign will be removed. Rainbow owner Michael Maglieri told the commission the iconic sign would be donated to a museum and a new sign for the Rainbow will be incorporated at the bottom of the billboard.
An item concerning demolition of a duplex apartment for construction of a four-story, nine-unit condominium building at 1280 Sweetzer Ave., just south of Fountain Avenue, was continued to a future meeting.