A plan to construct a senior-care facility behind two historic properties on Palm Avenue received a split vote from West Hollywood’s Historic Preservation Commission during its Monday night teleconferencing meeting on Zoom. The Commission’s vote was 3-3, but since a majority of the Commission failed to approve the project, it was denied a “certificate of appropriateness” for fitting in with the historic structures.
The two bungalows at 927 and 931 Palm Ave., just north of Cynthia Street, were designated as historic landmarks in 2013. Property owner West Hollywood-based Dylan Investment Properties is seeking to rehabilitate the historic homes while building a four-story, 33,460-square-foot, 48-room, L-shaped building at 923 Palm Ave. that extends into the backyard of the two historic properties.
The facility would be used as a “memory care” facility for aging patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Project plans call for the historic bungalow at 927 Palm to be used for administrative offices, while the bungalow at 931 Palm would be used for residential housing for a total of 49 units on the property.
The Commission previously heard this project in July 2017 but rejected it in a 4-1 vote. However, three of the four commissioners who rejected it are no longer on the Commission.
Since that time, the project has been redesigned somewhat with its façade altered to be more compatible with the bungalows. The project was designed by WeHo architect Ed Levin, who also serves on the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). Consequently, Levin was not allowed to vote on the project or present it (one of his associates did the presentation).
Impact on Historic Properties
Federal historic property guidelines allow new structures to be built adjacent to the historic homes, provided that “when visible and in close proximity to historic buildings, the new construction must be subordinate to these [historic] buildings.”
Commissioners Gail Ostergren, Matt Dubin and Lola Davidson all voted against approving the certificate of appropriateness. Ostergren said the sheer size of the new four-story building would automatically overwhelm the one-story historic structures. The issue of subordination was what caused HPC to reject the project in 2017.
On the matter of “setting,” the question was whether the new building would alter the intent of the historic designation which seeks, at least in part, to preserve a feeling of what the Old Sherman district was like when the bungalows were built in 1902, an era when homes tended to have large back yards.
James Stevens, vice president of Dylan Investment, contended that the setting had long ago been compromised since there are many four-story apartment/condominium buildings on Palm Avenue, including one immediately north of the site. He noted the City Council’s historic designation was only for the houses, not of the yard, and the Council’s discussion clearly assumed the backyards would eventually be developed.
Likewise, he presented reports by three leading historic assessment firms (Rincon Consultants, Chattel Inc. and Historic Resources Group) saying the development plan was appropriate for the site.
Stevens also pointed out the Commission had approved certificates of appropriateness for three other projects that went further than what he was proposing – Robertson Lane relocating the Factory building to elsewhere on the site, French Market removing the roof so a new building can be built above it and San Vicente Inn attaching a four-story building to the rear of a historic bungalow.
Commissioners Yawar Charlie, Jake LaJoie and Francesco Gallo seemed to agree with Stevens’s reasoning and voted to approve the project.
Public Commenters Opposed
Of the 14 people speaking during the public comment period, all opposed the project. Resident Matt Lundin said the new building was “out of character” with the bungalows, while resident Keith Patterson said the project was “ill conceived” especially for a busy street like Palm Avenue, which is often used as a cut through street.
Kate Eggert and Krisy Gosney, the couple who wrote the papers nominating the bungalows for historic designation in 2013, said the new building was too large and out of scale with the bungalows.
“We really wish these properties were looked at as being rare, special, cherished rather than a hindrance,” said Eggert.
The residents who currently live in the 923, 927 and 931 Palm Ave. properties held a large viewing party, organized by Duff Bennett, who lives in the small, non-historically designated house at the rear of the 931 Palm property. Many of those attending this viewing party also commented to the Commission over Zoom.
“Preservation is about ensuring that our urban landscapes reflect more than just profit margins or the whims of developers, private membership clubs or real estate speculators. It’s about working to see that we honor and reflect our city’s history following the same rules and guidelines to benefit the general public as a whole,” said Bennett.
The West Hollywood Preservation Alliance also opposed the project, believing the new building would overwhelm the original buildings. Member Roy Oldenkamp called the new building a “giant monolith behind the bungalows.”
Commissioner Matt Dubin noted the two historic bungalows have been allowed to deteriorate since being designated in 2013. “The fact they’ve been designated for seven years with or without a Mills Act contract is really emblematic of a problem we have in our city of designating properties and then not taking care of them,” said Dubin. “We should have started on rehabilitating these properties the minute they got designated. That is actually what we should be doing as a city and as a body.”
The project next moves to the Planning Commission for consideration. While the HPC’s failure to approve the certificate of appropriateness may influence the Planning Commission’s deliberations, that Commission can still approve the project and the certificate of appropriateness.
When the project appeared before the Planning Commission’s Design Review subcommittee on July 9, it received mixed reviews with the commissioners liking the park-like atmosphere the project was trying to create in the limited amount of green space available. As for the new building’s appearance, Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro felt the new building was too similar looking to the historic bungalows, preferring the new building be in high contrast to the bungalows to make them stand out more as “jewels.”