The West Hollywood City Council immersed itself last night into a lengthy discussion of two items on its agenda that would have an impact on housing in WeHo.
One item was a proposal to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to conform with state laws that apply to so-called “accessory dwelling units.” Such units, also referred to as “granny flats,” are small houses built on the lot of a larger house or duplex that typically are used to shelter one’s parents or adult children.
The state legislature has enacted new laws to make it easier for residents to get permission from local governments to build such units. For example, an application for permission to build an accessory unit must be processed within 120 days of receiving it, and a local government cannot require the owner to provide parking spaces if the unit is within a half mile of a bus or Metro stop, is within a historic district or within a block of a car-sharing vehicle such as ZipCar. Cities also must allow “junior accessory dwelling units,” which are defined as those that are no more than 500 square feet and are within the walls of an existing dwelling but have a separate entrance.
The city’s Community Development Department proposed allowing the separate accessory dwelling units within West Hollywood’s R1-A, R1-B and R1-C zones and allowing the junior units in the R1, R2, R3 and R4 zones on lots that contain only a single-family home. An R1-A zone permits a single building of up to two stories. An R1-B zone permits two units (typically a duplex) of up to two stories and an R1-C zone allows a single unit of only one story. The R2 zones permit buildings up to two stories in height with between two and four housing units. The R3 zones permit single buildings with multiple apartments from two to four stories in height and the R4 zones permit larger multifamily buildings of three and four stories.
The city’s argument for limiting accessory dwelling units to the R1 (single family and duplex) zones is that the other zones should be available for multi-family developments in order to provide more affordable housing. “Further, by allowing ADUs in multi-family zones this may reduce the chance of single family homes being replaced by more market rate and affordable units in multi-unit projects,” said a memo from the Community Development Department. That argument was supported by the Planning Commission in its review of the proposal.
City Councilmember Lauren Meister argued against the limitations on accessory dwelling units, saying she believed they should be allowed on a lot with a single-family home in any zoning district, whether or not the district is zoned for multi-family dwellings. If it’s a district zoned for four or more apartments (R2, R3 and R4 districts), Meister said either an accessory unit or a junior unit should be allowed if there already are two housing units (i.e. a duplex) on the lot. She argued that both accessory units and junior units should be allowed in multi-unit zones on lots where there is only a single-family house.
Meister said that permitting accessory units in such multi-unit zones would provide more housing at a time when there is a housing shortage, would make it easier for elderly residents to “age in place” and give the city more flexibility in reducing the height and density of housing in them, addressing a complaint by some residents that there are too many big apartment buildings being constructed in West Hollywood.
Councilmember John Duran contradicted Meister’s argument that her proposal would increase the housing stock. “Trying to preserve one unit when ten could be built, I think runs contrary to our housing policy,” Duran said. However, Duran and Mayor John Heilman said that ultimately the market will dictate how owners of property decide to use it. Heilman said an owner of a single-family home on a lot zoned for construction of multiple apartments is going to make more money selling it to a developer than by adding an accessory dwelling unit.
Councilmember John D’Amico presented a motion to adopt the Community Development Department’s proposal and add to it Meister’s request to allow accessory dwelling units in all residential zones. Because of the proposed change, the Council will have to consider the revised ordinance at a future meeting.
The second housing issue was a proposal to amend the zoning ordinance so that it conforms with the city’s General Plan 2035 by permitting construction of apartment buildings with small shops or offices. That plan, adopted in 2011, designates land uses for the next 25 years and the city’s zoning code is supposed to be revised to comply with it. However, the Community Development Department said that it took more time to study ways to implement the proposed two zones that would create what it calls “a hybrid residential zoning district that would allow for small scale commercial on the ground floor. No other existing zoning districts in West Hollywood allow for these commercial uses.” Those businesses would include art galleries, small restaurants and shops and so-called “live/work” units, none with more than 1,200 square feet.
“The goals and policies in the General Plan call for Beverly Boulevard to transform into a walkable, mixed-use boulevard that capitalizes on nearby transit service and the area’s proximity to Cedars Sinai Medical Center,” said the Community Development memo to the Council. “Currently, the area has 2-5 story multifamily buildings. Beverly Boulevard includes a number of large-scale design showrooms but there is a
lack of smaller-scale neighborhood serving commercial uses such as coffee shops, bakeries, etc.”
The amendment considered by the Council would rezone the area south of the businesses on Beverly Boulevard between North Wetherly Drive and North Clark Drive from its current R2 status (permitting residential buildings up to two stories in height with between two and four housing units) to R4B-C. That is a zone that would permit construction of four-story buildings that contain both shops and apartments. The amendment also would rezone the commercial/neighborhood district on the east side of Fairfax Avenue up to two blocks south of Santa Monica Boulevard to permit four-story buildings with a mix of commercial and residential units.
“The new zone would help to transform a wide boulevard to a walkable street with residential and small-scale commercial opportunities,” the memo said.
That Beverly Boulevard rezoning proposal drew support from a number of local residents, several of whom said they now work from home and see the change as a step toward so-called “live/work” spaces.
Jason Illoulian of Faring, a local real estate developer, spoke in favor of the zoning changes, noting that there already are buildings as much as five stories tall on both Beverly and Fairfax and that neighborhood-serving businesses can’t find space to rent in the area.
Amanda Hyde, who has founded a WeHo renters advocacy group and runs a skincare salon housed on the first floor of the Huxley apartment building on La Brea and Fountain avenues, praised the concept of such multi-use buildings. Hyde also spoke out against complaints by some residents that there are too many tall buildings being built in WeHo. “We need to be growing higher, much much higher,” she said. “I’m sorry, I’m going to lose the view behind my building, and I’m happy with that.”
Councilmember Meister opposed the proposed changes, saying they will result in commercial encroachment on residential neighborhoods. She also questioned the definition of “live/work” spaces used by some speakers, saying they were conflating that term with the idea of a home business, which typically is a small business someone runs from his home. “Live/work” spaces are generally defined as a building where a person has both an apartment and a separate business in a commercial space on the ground floor.
Councilmember Duran said he saw construction of such buildings as a way to offer young people the opportunity to both live and work in West Hollywood, where rents now are so high that as many as three or four live in a single apartment.
Duran said such mixed-use buildings are essential in the future. “We are not just planning for those who are here today, but planning for the future,” he said., referring to changes in the work environment.
Both Heilman and D’Amico argued for limiting the commercial space in such mixed-use buildings to no more than 50% of the first floor and D’Amico argued that the second and third floors of buildings on the south of Beverly Boulevard be set back to reduce their obtrusion on residential neighbors.
In a trial vote, Meister and Horvath voted against the Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax proposals. Because of the proposed changes, the rezoning ordinance will be rewritten by city staffers and brought back for a vote at a future Council meeting.