LYNN HOOPINGARNER: Approval of 8500 Santa Monica would set dubious new precedents

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At tonight’s meeting City Council will hear an Appeal of Planning Commission’s approval of a project at 8500 Santa Monica Blvd. To be clear, I am not opposed to a development at this corner, I would love to see an iconic and beautiful project here that serves the neighborhood, activates the space and and brings 20% (or more) affordable housing. However, this project, as approved by PC, introduced some extraordinary precedents that could have far-ranging impacts for future developments introduced as “on the fly” changes to city ordinances that are very questionable and are the basis for the Appeal, primarily:

1 Project illegally including two non-contiguous parcels in the project (the dog park). Applicant has de facto concurred by submitting a letter from their attorney and revised project plans removes the two parcels. Important note: This is not “new evidence”, it is a new project with a new base project square footage and a new basis for all the calculations relating to objective standards in the city’s ordinances.

2 Project excluded over 7,000 SF of circulation and support areas in the calculation of project FAR and square footage which is required by city code. Applicant’s letter and revised plans corrects this error. Important note: This is not “new evidence”, it is a new project with a new base project square footage and thus new FAR.

3 Cost Justification for Concessions. “The appellant argues that there is no “cost or financial information” provided to show that the concession results in identifiable and actual cost reductions. The applicant provided additional financial information to support the request included as Attachment E to this staff report.” (Staff report p. 22.)

In point of fact, no “cost or financial information” was provided to PC to substantiate the basis for the decision. Staff made an assertion that the concessions will result in actual cost reductions but this statement was completely unsupported by any data. Attachment E provided in this staff report is NEW information based upon a revised project, NOT the project submitted to PC.

Why make all these changes if Applicant is confident in the accuracy of the original project?

4 PC approval violated the Brown Act by submitting a Supplemental Memo moments before the hearing which staff asserted was authored by legal and justified the inclusion of non-contiguous parcels. This parcel issue was brought to staff’s attention at both the neighborhood meeting and Design Review and yet staff justifies the late creation of the memo on “comments … submitted shortly before a hearing” and asserts that the memo “was read into the record” but PC and the public had no ability to review or research the information and PC was led to believe it was a legal memo. It was NOT made available online until days AFTER the hearing. I personally checked daily. In any event a document published after a project has been approved is tantamount to useless.

5 Landscaping plans were NOT prepared by a Licensed Landscape Architect (as required by the Development Permit Application). While “preliminary” designs are permissible, designs not prepared by a Licensed Landscape Architect are not. These plans are a bunch of green dots on paper and a list of possible plants. These are NOT landscaping plans prepared by a Licensed Landscape Architect.

Applicant and staff have elected to not only address the items in the Appeal but introduce as new changes to the Project and not proposed to PC:

1 Reduction in Affordable Housing Units from five units to four. A TWENTY PERCENT reduction which is glossed over in the staff report entirely. In fact, the Council Agenda Item refers to “approved project included five units of on-site affordable housing”. The fact that the proposed new project eliminates one of the five units is not mentioned until a parenthetical statement on p. 4 and not again until p. 25 with no reference to the fact that this is a 20% reduction. Once again, this is NOT “new evidence”, this is a new project. Note: Attachment L, Applicant’s new Density Bonus Calculations, do not in fact show the calculations used as the basis for the reduction.

2 13% Reduction in Total Open Space and a 72% reduction in permeable ground floor area. These are not mentioned in the staff report and can only be identified by a deep dive into the proposed new project plans.

In short, the Applicant has proposed to change the project (reminder that a changed project plan is NOT “new evidence” relating to the items under Appeal). The building envelope may be the same but very little else is:

  • Decreased the total parcel sq. ft. 27%
  • Decreased total Open Space 20%
  • Decreased the number of Affordable Housing Units 20%
  • Increased the total project sq. ft. by 20%
  • Moved required ground floor open space to the roof
  • Eliminated 50% of required permeable ground floor area

Staff has included no chart comparing the PC approved objective standards and the revised standards in the new project included in the applicant’s attorney’s submittal of new plans.

What courses of action are available to Council?

19.76.040 Action on an Appeal.

A. Action. At the hearing, the appeal body may only consider any issue involving or related to the matter that is the subject of the appeal, in addition to the specific grounds for the appeal, and shall conclude the proceedings with one of the following actions.

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1. Affirmation or Reversal. The appeal body may, by resolution, affirm, affirm in part, or reverse the action that is the subject of the appeal.

2. Additional Conditions. When reviewing an appeal, the appeal body may adopt additional conditions of approval involving or related to the subject matter of the appeal.

3. Referral. If new or different evidence is presented in the appeal, the Planning Commission or Council may, but shall not be required to, refer the matter back to the Planning and Development Services Director, Planning Commission, or HPC for further consideration. Any new

Code identifies it is important to distinguish between items that are and are not the subject of the appeal:

Items NOT in the Appeal:

  • Count of Affordable Housing Units
  • Amount of Open Space
  • Changes to project permeability requirements

For the elements of the appeal the options are:

  • Option1: Reverse the PC Approval.
    Are the facts in evidence that the appellant is correct? Did the applicant’s response to the appeal (and staff’s memo) de facto concur with the appeal by removing the project elements identified in the Appeal? Then the appeal should be granted and the Applicant sent back to the drawing board to submit a new project as outlined in the applicant’s response.
  • Option 2: Affirm PC Approval in Part.
    If Council agrees that elements of the appeal are correct, they must be affirmed. If those elements impact the approval by PC then the project should be started de novo to address those elements.
  • Option 3. Affirm PC Approval.
    If everything as approved by PC is correct, and no corrections are required, then deny the Appeal.

Questions for Council & Legal:

1. If Council denies the Appeal does that mean developers can now use non-contiguous parcels in future developments because it would be de facto approving PC’s decision?

a. If no, why not? Developers would be able to cite previous PC approval that was upheld by Council.

b. If so, how big of a non-contiguous parcel qualifies?

c. If so, how far away can a parcel be? How many unrelated parcels in between?

d. Where in state law does it say that a sidewalk connects two parcels for purposes of a single development? By that definition Rocco’s and Pump are connected and can be developed as one project. Is this true?

2. Does PC have the authority, or does State Law give them the authority, to CHANGE the objective standards in the zoning ordinance? Note, it is not the “waiver” of the SF that is the question. It is the CHANGE in the basis for the calculation.

a. If so, which objective standards can be changed?

b. To what extent?

c. Can it be done at a PC Hearing for one project or must it be submitted to Council for approval?

While the Permit Streamlining Act (PSA) and the Housing Accountability Act have stringent guidelines, I would note that through out the HAA it prefaces the exceptions that allow denial of a project with the assumption that it first meets “objective development standards”.

Question for legal. The PSA and its five meeting/hearing limit is for a single project. If a project is denied on appeal, especially for not meeting objective development standards, does that require the applicant to submit a new project thus “restarting the clock” on the new project?

I respectfully request that Council think not about just this project but of the larger implications of the items under appeal as well as the actual reduction in affordable housing would be the result of denying this appeal.

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About Lynn Hoopingarner
Lynn Hoopingarner is the former chair of the West Hollywood Planning Commission. A native of Michigan, she is a Certified Management Consultant® and has owned her own consulting firm since 1992. She is also an avid gardener; the garden at her home in WeHo has been designated a National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Refuge.

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Tom
Tom
10 months ago

We need you to run for City Council. Where do I contribute?

Knowledge Rules
Knowledge Rules
10 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Lynn would be only ONE vote on the CC. BUT if she were Director of Planning & Comment Development, that could create a big change.

Knowledgeable Rules
Knowledgeable Rules
10 months ago

Planning & Community Development……

Mick Remington
Mick Remington
10 months ago

there’s no incentive for anyone to build in WH. all these ridiculous hoops just drive capital elsewhere.

Play by the Rules
Play by the Rules
10 months ago
Reply to  Mick Remington

There is plenty of incentive if only West Hollywood Planning Department would play by the rules and write coherent staff reports to enable readers to separate the chaff from the wheat.

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