With a unanimous vote on Thursday night, West Hollywood’s Planning Commission approved a new cutting-edge digital billboard on the Sunset Strip that will appear to float in the air.
Using the latest LED technology, the “Floating Billboard” at 8743 Sunset Blvd. at Sherbourne Drive, will have an opaque frame that seems to disappear when viewed from certain angles. This “invisible frame” will make the digital advertising image on the 14-foot-tall and 48-foot-wide LED billboard appear to float above the historic building beneath it.
The secret to the three-foot “invisible frame” surrounding the billboard’s advertising area is that it too will be made of LED digital surface. Cameras at the rear of the billboard will continually take images of the sky conditions to the east and transmit those live images onto the LED frame facing west.
“It will reflect the sky behind to the front edge of the billboard and then create the illusion of an invisible billboard,” explained billboard architect Benjamin Anderson.
This new digital billboard will replace the existing static billboard atop the Constance Bennett building, which dates back to 1936. The Georgian Revival style building was named after the famous movie actress who commissioned it. Sunset Sherbourne Holdings, LLC, headed by Chris Bonbright, currently owns the building.
The new billboard will be the same size and go into the same space as the existing static billboard, although it will be at a slightly different angle. Netflix will own the billboard and intends to use it solely to advertise Netflix programming.
The Commissioners were impressed and praised the pioneering technology, Commissioner John Altschul saying, “the wow factor is tremendous.” Commissioner Adam Bass said, “Somebody’s going to do it first and I want that to be in West Hollywood.”
Terms of the billboard’s development agreement say the city may program the billboard 17.5% of the time with public service messages and digital art displays. The city’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission will be responsible for programming that public art component of billboard.
The city will receive an annual $850,000 payment for the 30 years of the development agreement, although that payment will be discounted some in the first two years to allow for construction costs.
A stipulation of the development agreement is that the Constance Bennett building must remain occupied by a business, otherwise the payment to the city will increase drastically. That’s to prevent the building from becoming a mere pedestal for the billboard, as has happened with several other buildings on the Strip. The building must also be maintained in good condition and not allowed to deteriorate.
This Floating Billboard will be about 100 feet away from the equally unique three-sided Sunset Spectacular digital billboard that will soon be erected in the city-owned parking lot at 8775 Sunset Blvd.
Commissioner John Erickson had to recuse himself because he will be a member of the City Council by the time it goes to Council for final approval (he can’t vote on it as both a Planning Commissioner and then as a City Councilmember). Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro had to recuse himself because he does consulting work on billboards.
Commissioner Sue Buckner had to recuse herself because she lives within 500 feet of the billboard. Commissioner John Altschul also lives within 500 feet of the billboard, but he did NOT recuse himself saying that his condominium faces north and he can’t see the billboard, therefore it will not have an impact on the value of his condo.
Alcohol-related zoning change sent back for revisions
The Commission spent nearly two hours debating a change to the zoning ordinances before sending it back to staff for more work.
The proposed zoning change would allow alcohol sales at businesses located on the east side of Fairfax Avenue between Willoughby Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard and on four blocks on the south side of Beverly Boulevard between Wetherly Drive and Clark Drive.
The City Council changed the zoning in these two areas in 2017 to encourage live-work spaces, but did not include alcohol sales.
No businesses in these areas have applied for alcohol sales, but city staff wanted that option to be available if business wanted it in the future.
The Commission did not like the idea, several concerned about having alcohol sales in businesses directly adjacent to residential areas. Several residents also phoned in, opposed to the idea, saying they did not want their neighborhoods disrupted by alcohol sales.
Commissioner Stacey Jones, who was adamantly opposed, said these areas were intended for live-work spaces and disliked the idea of allowing a bar to go into a live-work area. She noted the two most frequent complaints residents make are about disturbances stemming from alcohol and from rooftop dining.
The Commission briefly discussed limiting the alcohol sales to only beer and wine, but ultimately sent it back to city staff for further revisions.