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Planning Commission Votes Down Condo Conversion

City panel finds a zoning loophole to deny request to turn apartment building under construction into condominiums.

After serious debate and some legal maneuvering, the West Hollywood Planning Commission voted Thursday to reject a plan to convert a four-unit apartment building currently under construction into condominiums.

In 2007, the city approved an application to build a three-story, four-unit apartment complex on the northeast corner of Orlando and Rosewood avenues. That building is partially built, but the owner of the property now wants permission to sell the units as condos, saying that is what he wanted to do all along.

Since the city wants to encourage the building of rental units rather than condominiums, it's easier for proposed apartment buildings to get approved. The Orlando Avenue building project was approved by city staff and never came before the Planning Commission.

If it had started as condominiums, it would have gone through a different approval process, one that included the Planning Commission from the outset.

Members of the commission expressed anger at the property owner's attempt to switch to condos “at the 11th hour,” as Commissioner Marc Yeber phrased it.

Commissioner Roy Huebner said he was uncomfortable with how the property owner was handling the conversion request, especially given that he said it was his intention all along.

Since state law says a city cannot compel anyone to be in the rental business, the commission initially felt it had no choice but to approve the condo request.

West Hollywood Assistant City Attorney Christi Hogin said developers frequently use this legal maneuver to switch from apartments to condos at the last minute. “We know it is a problem, but we can’t punish those that take advantage of it,” Hogin said.

However, the commission got creative and found a loophole to deny the request. In 2007, that parcel of land was zoned for three-story buildings. Since the passage of the new General Plan, it is now only zoned for two-story buildings.

The commission said none of the project’s construction permits would be good since they did not meet the current two-story zoning requirements. Consequently, the commission voted 5-2 to deny the request.

Commissioner Donald DeLuccio, one of the two who voted to approve the request, told Patch after the meeting he felt the commission had a good argument about the permits, but was stretching things to deny the request.

Commissioner David Aghaei cast the other vote to approve it. Aghaei told Patch he felt the issue before the commission was more about how the land was being recorded in public documents as opposed to the process through which the application was handled.

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Todd Bianco February 04, 2012 at 03:51 PM
@Wendy, as I read the article, the owner/developer testified before the Planning Commission that he wanted a condo project all along. If he went to the City and got approval and permits for an apartment building, it sounds like either a deception, a lie or both to me. He didn't "change his mind" - he just wants to change the project before it's finished to conform to what he wanted from the beginning. And he admits it! The City's legal representative stated that this is a common "maneuver" used by developers at the last minute to essentially force the hand of the permitting governmental agency. Apparently it's not illegal to do, so they get away with it. I'm pleased that the Planning Commission found a "loophole" to find that as of today, a condo building of that height wouldn't be permitted so the developer would have to follow the rules as of today, not as of 2007 when this whole thing started. It would be better to have a vacant lot with a lawn there than this monstrosity.
Paul February 04, 2012 at 05:46 PM
What happens now with the project? The house that was there had been boarded up for years before they demolished it.
Wendy February 04, 2012 at 05:47 PM
@Todd, If the 4 unit builder had to use deception that is because West Hollywood is a rip off town. If you come to them honest with a project that makes common sense they are going to deny you. When you come to WeHo as a small builder they play the game of only allowing you to build 25 percent of what you should. If you want to build the same as your neighbors that is going to cost you big punishment fees. I do not know why I even comment about this. It's not my battle. I am a renter. Obama is about to start a war with Iran so he can get the Neocon vote. Both Medias left and right have given the Green Light for invasion. We are going to start a war so 2012 is in the bag.
Wendy February 04, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Actually West Hollywood can make it a shrine or like a fire burning cross on a hill. They can use it for a punishment example of how we can destroy you. I know that old house. Looked at it since the 60s it was basically the last old house remaining on the block full of larger apartment buildings. The people who rent hate property owners so West Hollywood is going to do a public torture of a small lot owner. It's going to be a slow crucification. Buy some Chips and watch the bloodletting.
Ali February 04, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Wendy, you are off your rocker. And I suggest you read this article again. You twist facts and make them up as you go.
Ali February 04, 2012 at 11:18 PM
And if you hate West Hollywood so much, why don't you leave.
Wendy February 05, 2012 at 12:14 AM
I cannot afford to leave West Hollywood. I am too busy being a freeloader. I am here for the free sandwiches just like you are.
Wendy February 05, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Are you calling me a liberal?
joninla February 05, 2012 at 03:31 AM
I wonder what the 'haters' think this decision will result in? Ever heard of "Cutting your nose off, despite your face." The city can't take the property and being punitive (at this stage in the construction project) hurts the community as much (or maybe even more) than the developer. Wanna punish a developer these days, let them build pricy condos. Nobody is buying. Problem solving this 'situation' seems like a better approach than letting it remain a blight on the neighborhood. (I don't personally care or live near this one. But I care about the decisions being made by what is a clearly a non-functioning local govt ... but that's for another topic)
joninla February 05, 2012 at 12:23 PM
Re-Reading the article again - The process of designing an apartment and then making it a condo project is a common procedure and legal. The claim of an 11th hour change being so egregious would have more merit from anyone but the City Planning Commission who does nothing but make 11th hour switches (usually on Fridays, preferably over holidays). Finally - note .... The new "general Plan' Which John Heilman has been pushing so hard is all about allowing the City to Change zoning in the City. The changes will allow for major large buildings on what was land that was not so zoned. As it appears (looking at what it says) the City apparently decided to specifically change the zoning on the land which is already under construction. Talk about an 11th hour switch. I don't know the players, but it looks like cherry picked re-zoning in a very punitive manner - which SMACKS AGAIN OF IMPROPRIETY IN CITY ACTIONS.
MarkD February 06, 2012 at 07:12 AM
Wendy -- Once again, you lack simple reading comprehension skills. The facts are right there in the story, the owner applied to build an apartment building. Period. If the owner wanted to build condos, then he/she could have applied for the appropriate permits. Period. Bait and switch, plain and simple. And Wendy, for the future, you should know that the *words* of the story are those black things that you apparently ignore, not the white spaces in between where you apparently insert whatever bizarre imagining is romping through your brain while you cook up your responses.
MarkD February 06, 2012 at 07:14 AM
So you glean your "facts" from watching old movies, Wendy? That explains so much.
joninla February 06, 2012 at 07:38 AM
I am really not that vested in this story - but something about the fact it was published and is so controversial makes me re-think. Out of curiosity, what would be a solution to the problem of a partially build project (clearly undesirable for everyone while left vacant and potentials for crime, injury et al. The housing market has so radically changed, should we as a city 'teach a lesson' about a very unique parcel, partially constructed and just barely within the City Limits to affect much of anything? Reto-Rezoning I think opens the door for the developer to sue the City (and again ... talk about sudden 11th hour surprise switcheroo .... by the City). The 3 story apartment building next door is so ugly, it could only be an improvement to that corner. Just wondering what should be done - any ideas?
MarkD February 06, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Jon -- It's not about "teaching a lesson." From the sound of this article, it is a loophole that is regularly exploited by developers looking for an easy way around the system that's in place, and the Planning Commission has found a way to close the loophole on this project. The issue isn't between leaving a development half-finished or not, it is about how the development will be used once it is completed. And the city is saying, "You applied for this type of development, you need to honor the agreement you entered into." It is not retro-rezoning by the city. If anything, it is an attempt by a developer to "retro-rezone." Whether it is "barely inside city limits" or smack dab in the middle of the city is irrelevant.
joninla February 06, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Same facts totally different conclusions. "a loophole" is also a means to an end in an otherwise burdensome process. It's neither sneaky nor uncommon. It's legal and part of the regular procedure developers of property have used. Developers are not all 'evil people'. The issue is not about 'how it will be used' as even the City Attorney has no doubt that no city can force a land owner to beomce a landlord of property. And the fact that it's barely within city limits is incredibly signifcant for a 'city plan' and the effects it will have on the City as a whole. Smack dab in the middle of the city has a huge impact, on the perifery, the impact the City and it's resdients seem inconsequential compared to the very serious and huge problems the Planning Comminsion has created with its partially completed $125 Million Dollar 25th anniversay projects indebetting the city and destroying so much green open space in favor of unsafe, poorly designed and unattractive permanent changes to our city. Again - the city has now rezoned the site. So now what should be done. The City still can not legally force a person to become a landlord of their property. They have acted in a punitive manner without thought of the consequences of the partially completed project stagnating for who knows how many years.
Todd Bianco February 06, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I think properties on the edge/border of a city matter quite a bit. For example, the moment you drive into Beverly Hills, you know you aren't in LA or WeHo any longer. Same for Santa Monica. Standards matter. The streets are better repaired, zoning standards are enforced, etc. Let's say that this "loophole" is S.O.P. for developers. If that's the case, they have to live by the rules they exploit. In this case, the property was down-zoned since the apartment project was started. The landowner has every right to develop the project approved in 2007, even if it spans several years. If the zoning hadn't changed, the Planning Commission would have had to approve the conversion to condos. However, since the developer's application is "new" at this time, he has to play by the rules today, not from years ago. The new rules say that his project wouldn't conform with current zoning without a variance. No one forced him to spend $2 million for 4 units. He could sell the project at a loss. This happens all the time. Or just go bankrupt like they all do and the property becomes bank-owned, sold at a steep discount to anyone willing to finish it. Maybe 4 apartments will be a viable investment at $600k. But that's not the City's problem. There are plenty of eyesores that sit around WeHo. Remember how long the rat-infested Athletic Club sat before it was demolished?
joninla February 06, 2012 at 05:10 PM
There is usually a difference as you describe when changing city limits. Ironically the boarders are so varied and unusal, it is very difficult (for west hollywood) to know when you are in fact in the city or not. Of course there are some locations where an actual white line was painted to indcate the cange. However, to overgeneralize as you have keeps pointing at everything but the issue. Were this .... Let's say on a major intersection like .... Santa Monica & Crest. Hgts. A new major construction would be a very major statement about the City, when you enter it and why you are trapped in grid locked traffice infront of an oversized new project. On a back sidestreet, I doubt anyone but the locals (an not all at that) are absolutly sure exactly where the boundary is on that portion of the southern most awkward shaped portion that happens to be in West Hollywood. Your point was correct. It is about the Use. The City wants to control the landowners use of the completed project. That is not legal. i.e. it would be illegal for the city to inadvertantly do so. It would be an improper action to do so knowing their own City Attorney Confrimed it was not leagal to try to force the desired use of the land. The Supreme Court of California just ruled in an incredibly extreme precedent case against the City doing this tweeking of laws without considering the factors in play. Shame on the city for not telling that part of the story.
MarkD February 06, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Thank you, Tony. Jon - No one is FORCING the owner to become a landlord. The OWNER filed an application to BECOME A LANDLORD. The city is holding the owner accountable to the permit received to develop the property. And where it is in the city remains irrelevant. Rule and code enforcement don't vary depending on distance from a city's epicenter. The rules don't gradually change as you get closer to the city limits. And I'm with Tony, in that neighborhood, it is VERY obvious where West Hollywood ends and Los Angeles begins. Just drive down the street, and when you suddenly hit a block with horrible potholes and damaged pavement, you know you've arrived in LA. The border in that part of town is particularly obvious as LA just neglects everything north of Melrose in that area.
joninla February 06, 2012 at 06:02 PM
I think my position about this particular project is in the context of such a radical change in the real estate market (unlike anything before in history) that for the City and Resident's best interest, it would be better (assuming there is a developer with the money/financing to just get the project completed). It's not a major project relative to the massive construction projects (both condo and rental) the City was actively pushing through (even with the radical change in Real Estate) ... and kept so ... Until California stopped the State Redevelopment Agency that was funding the crazy mixed-use developments while the State was going bankrupt. There is no more money for the City and its mixed uses GOAL FOR THE FUTURE OF WEST HOLLYWOOD'S SURVIVAL and the zoning changes happen to also completely prohibit any more mixed use projects .... Like they are a plague. They are a plague on the City, the Planning Commission is responsible and would keep building them if they could get the State to fund the Large Developers. Now the money is gone, and they are shirking responsibility for what has and is being built. This particular lot is not very remarkable or large. The City should facilitate the developer who wants to complete some decent project. The alternative of half complete and some notion of a bankruptcy be a solution is not rational. There is no need to stop this 'loophole'. Nobody is building anymore.
joninla February 06, 2012 at 09:36 PM
The traditionally very conservative California Supreme Court ruled against the City of West Hollywood in the 'Tara' case. The court explaining it clear final decision, that The City of West Hollywood: "Wedegar [writing for the Supreme Court of California's opinion] emphasized the practical over the legal" The court was discussing the City Technically Applying the minimum requirements under the law for notice of actions and public input before making 'already decided' decisions on the City's Formal Record during a public meeting. This case couldn't be a bigger example (and one the city is proud of) pushing through a 25 year city plan under false pretenses, and then failing to make it clear it was only just approved and the new zoning only now made, and tada, like lightning they ruled against the one project. The developer was upfront and honest when he said it was his plans all along to build 4 condos and did nothing wrong (and everything right given their track record) in not having the planning commission decided what his property would look like. I am pushing for the developer to sue the City on this one. They've lost with precedent set by the Supreme Court of California (at $800,000+ cost to the city) that these practices are not proper. This is not a preservation case, but one that could get damages (punitive possibly) against the city.
MarkD February 06, 2012 at 09:52 PM
The circumstances surrounding Tara and COMPLETELY different from the circumstances of this case. It's baffling why you insist on trying to conflate the two. No one involved in this issue on either side has suggested that this current case is about historic preservation (although Wendy's own convoluted logic tried to take it there). This has nothing to do with a 25-year city plan. The developer was NOT upfront on honest -- he or she applied for a permit to build APARTMENTS, received that permit, then later in the process tried to change the development into something else. He or she did this to avoid going through the proper channels and permit requirements to build condos. The Planning Commission is doing nothing more than holding the developer to the terms that the DEVELOPER set FOR HIMSELF. You can toss around as much Tara and Supreme Court and lawyer conspiracies as you want, but its all hubris.
MarkD February 06, 2012 at 09:56 PM
@Wendy -- Keep the free sandwiches, I just wish somebody would yank out your Internet connection and spare the rest of us your ranting. You can't even keep your own opinions consistent, how do you expect to convince anyone with your borderline-insane accusations? I'm with Ali, you're off your rocker.
joninla February 07, 2012 at 12:34 AM
You may not understand either what the court opinion said or the significance in in opinion in detailing the process behind their decision. They made it clear that in the future the City can not continue to simply apply specific details to meet a larger set of Statutes without considering the circumstances and facts of the situation they are attempting to affect by their political voice. I don't know about this particular property, but you seem to know the developer well enough to know he was intentionally and knowingly trying to improperly mislead the City. Even though the City Attorney (the biased ones for the city) said it was perfectly legal. I think the neighbors to the south would rather look at a nice new condo than either the existing 3 story gross old apartment building that the partially built project would hide. And I think built would be better than half-built and chain liked off.
Lynn Russell February 09, 2012 at 08:50 AM
After reading most if the comments on thus thread my brain apparently seized up. I challenged myself to make sense out of it all and conclude that you might all benefit from a course in logic and a tutorial in sentence construction. Absent that..... perhaps a lobotomy will do because this is off the charts of measurable mental stability.
Lynn Russell February 09, 2012 at 08:54 AM
"Most of the comments on this thread ".......my phone is misbehaving.
Wendy February 09, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Everyone is dumb except you right????????????? I would like to take a look at your command post lol
joninla February 11, 2012 at 01:21 AM
I walk by the project today and there is much more to the situation than the article reveals.
Ken C June 05, 2012 at 06:25 AM
The appeal was understandably approved by the city council this evening. I was in opposition until I heard that the person who owns it now is not the same person who applied for this development to be apartments in 2007. The new owner bought this development in 2010 and is now requesting the change to condos. Since city codes are the same for apartments as they are for condos the only difference is that there will be owners instead of tenants living in the dwelling. Had the council not approved the appeal, it would have opened the city to a law suit that the city could not win because state law is on the owner's side.
joninla June 05, 2012 at 07:32 AM
This is just an intellectual discussion (I don't live near or care - I just saw the previous meeting by mistake, thinking it was a different project) but it is actually a very disturbing example of the type of improper use of elected power of office, the local process and appointee's duties. The City Council and Planning Commission are on the smallest scale of our system of government, the 'executive' branch for our small local jurisdiction. They are not in any way empowered (and specifically separated from any ability) to also act as a review or "judicial branch' of a government of 'checks and balances.' It was clear from the well spoken deputy city attorney that the word 'discretion' as used in the law did not mean, or in this case, give the Planning Commission any legal/appointed/authorized ability to vote using any discretion at that vote, to deny what was just a procedural properly filed step in what was a properly executed project to date. They knew it would expose the city to a law suit, but intentionally voted using powers not anywhere close to their appointed authority as sworn to uphold as official Planning Commissioners. They would have to approve it now, but in the mean time, they improperly and with no power chose to impose a financial penalty to a person who followed the law. There was additional costs from the delay, loans, interest, layoffs ... which was an illegal pecuniary fine 'because they judged him 'not nice'' Separation of Powers?
joninla June 05, 2012 at 07:35 AM
(not to mention the additional costs to the City for holding yet another public noticed hearing on this project - knowing it was a 'penalty delay tactic' for a very common and legal (according to our City Attorney) process all developers have always had the option to exercise - lie or no lie. In this case, he didn't even lie - he was open about the procedure he was going to follow from the outset.

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