Planning Commission Approves Controversial Senior Living Facility on Palm Avenue

923-931 Palm Ave (rendering by Levin-Morris Architects)

With a 5-1 vote Thursday night, West Hollywood’s Planning Commission approved a controversial senior congregate-living facility that will be built behind and beside two historically designated houses on Palm Avenue.

After a hearing that took up four hours of a six-hour-long meeting, the Commission gave its blessing to the proposed senior congregate-care housing facility located at 923-931 Palm Ave., just north of Cynthia Street. Two historic bungalows built in 1902 already on the site will be incorporated into the project.

Designed by WeHo-based architect Ed Levin, the project includes a new, four-story, 33,460-square foot, 48-room, L-shaped building at 923 Palm Ave. and extends into the backyards of the two historic properties at 927 and 931 Palm Ave. Plans call for the bungalow at 927 Palm to be used for administrative offices, while the 931 Palm bungalow would be used for residential housing for a total of 49 units on the property.

The Commission liked the fact the project would bring assisted living for seniors to West Hollywood, something the city currently does not have. They especially liked the fact it would allow seniors to age in place and remain in the city once they are no longer able to live on their own.

“Inclusivity is part of [the city’s] DNA and including people as they age, people who have created this community, people who have given to the community, we don’t want to lose that history,” said Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro. “They can continue contributing to our community.”

However, the commissioners had reservations about the impact to traffic on narrow Palm Avenue, noting that ambulances would likely be going there with some regularity and will potentially block the street.

Cadence Living, which has over 30 senior living facilities in the U.S., will operate the facility, but the cost will be high – over $5,000 per month. Commissioner Sue Buckner noted many residents will be unable to afford to live there unless they have long-term care insurance.

During the public comment period, many callers raised concerns about the new building’s impact upon the two bungalows which the City Council designated as historic in 2013. They said the new four-story building would overwhelm the one-story houses. They also contended the historic context of the setting would be compromised by the four-story structure immediately behind it.

Architect Levin pointed out the historic designation was for the houses only, not the yards. Carvalheiro said the context was long ago compromised by the four-story apartment buildings around it.

There were also concerns about the fact the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) did not issue a certificate of appropriateness for the new building to be built adjacent to the two historic bungalows. When the project went before HPC in 2017, the commissioners denied the certificate of appropriateness in a 4-1 vote. However, when a revised version of the project returned to HPC in July 2020, the commissioners had a 3-3 split vote, meaning no formal action was taken. (Project architect Ed Levin is a member of HPC but recused himself for those votes).

Commissioner Lynn Hoopingarner cast the sole vote against the project, saying although she liked much about it, she could not make some of the findings needed for approval.

Commissioners John Altschul and Sue Buckner both ultimately voted to approve the project, but had reservations up until the final seconds before casting their votes. “The good outweighs the bad,” Altschul said as he voted Yes.

Commissioner John Erickson had to recuse himself because he will become a member of the City Council on Dec. 7. Project opponents have already indicated they intend to appeal the project to the Council. Erickson’s recusal was necessary because he can’t vote on the project both as both a Planning Commissioner and then as a City Councilmember.

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