Townscape Partners is free to move ahead with the demolition of the Lytton Savings building at 8150 Sunset Blvd.
Acting Justice Anthony Mohr, an L.A. Superior Court judge assigned to the Court of Appeal, rendered that decision on Friday. It was first reported in the Metropolitan News Enterprise, an online court news site.
The decision removes a major obstacle from Townscape’s plans for a five-building development on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards, which would include buildings with 229 residential units and 65,000 square feet of commercial space, including a grocery store, restaurants and retail shops. The project is being designed by the firm of architect Frank Gehry.
The 20,000-square-foot Lytton Bank building, which now houses a Chase bank branch, sits facing Sunset Boulevard at the corner of Crescent Heights. It was built in 1960 on the site of the former Garden of Allah and was designed by noted Southern California architect Kurt Meyer.
Mohr’s decision vacates one in April 2017 by Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue that barred the City of Los Angeles from issuing permits to Townscape that would allow it to demolish the bank building, which has been designated a historic resource.
Hogue ruled in a case brought by the Los Angeles Conservancy that Los Angeles’s approval of the building’s demolition violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a state law that protects California’s built environment as it does the natural environment, and for that reason the project approval had to be set aside.
Hogue ruled that Townscape could not demolish the building unless it “can prove the benefits of the … project outweigh the significant environmental effect of demolition.”
The environmental impact report (EIR) for the 8150 Sunset Boulevard project studied alternatives that included the historic building and determined that they would feasibly be included in the project. However, the Los Angeles City Council later claimed that the preservation alternatives were not feasible and approved the Lytton Savings building’s demolition.
“The City Council abused its discretion and violated state law by approving this demolition of a historic resource,” Conservancy attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley said at the time. “The loss of Lytton Savings would be a significant environmental impact, and it is feasible to instead avoid demolition and move ahead with the project.”
In his opinion, Judge Mohr said “the record contains a number of facts that constitute substantial evidence that the preservation alternatives would not fulfill the objectives of the project, among which was a call for vibrant buildings that draw people in, create new economic opportunities, and preserve view corridors.”
Mohr noted that the City of Los Angeles has called out several issues with keeping the Lytton Savings buildings and constructing the project around it that mean it “would not be as visually appealing or pedestrian friendly compared to the proposed project.”
The City of Los Angeles will have to hold a public hearing on Townscape’s plan to block vehicles from using a lane on the eastbound side of Sunset Boulevard to turn right onto Crescent Heights.
The 8150 Sunset project has been a major issue in West Hollywood, where residents south of it have raised concerns about the height massing and massing of its buildings and its impact traffic and the sewer system.
West Hollywood had opposed the project, but withdrew its opposition after Townscape made several concessions. They included reducing the height of the project’s tallest building, once proposed for 234 feet, to 178 feet as measured from the lowest point on sloping site. Townscape agreed that the top floor of that building will have a 10-foot setback on its southern side (which faces West Hollywood) so that the building will appear less tall, and mechanical equipment such as air conditioning compressors will be moved away from the WeHo border.
Also, Townscape agreed to give West Hollywood $2 million for traffic improvements. West Hollywood plans to erect bollards at the city’s border along Havenhurst Drive (on the western side of the site) to create a cul-de-sac that would prevent traffic leaving the 8150 Sunset project from turning left onto Havenhurst. The goal of the cul-de-sac is to preserve the residential nature of the street and prevent drivers from Havenhurst from being used as a cut through street to Fountain Avenue. Townscape also agreed to give the city more than $500,000 for sewer improvements, since the project will connect to West Hollywood’s sewers.