The Planning Commission voted to let the City Council decide about the controversial Centrum Sunset project and declined to review the Laurel Hardware Restaurant case at its meeting Thursday night.
In a four-hour meeting filled with tension, the six members of the commission (Commissioner Roy Huebner was on vacation) tried to weigh options carefully before rendering their verdicts, although many residents left unhappy.
While the commissioners were in favor of seeing the old Tower Records site at 8801 Sunset Blvd. developed, they had reservations about the proposed 52,000-square foot Centrum Sunset project that would see ground-floor retail, a David Barton specialty gym/spa on the second level and offices on the third level.
After continuing the hearing from their , wanting more information, they declined to approve or reject the project. They merely passed it along to the City Council with their recommendations. Since this case involves a development agreement, the council would have to give final approval anyway.
The commissioners opted to tell the council that they were generally supportive of the Centrum Sunset project, liking the design, but wrapping around the southeast corner of the building and another billboard facing west on Sunset.
City zoning codes require the project to have approximately 280 parking spaces. However, Centrum Sunset developers proposed creating 238 “shared parking” spaces. They would do this by having triple-tandem parking and mechanical lifts for storing cars.
By the developer’s calculations, the maximum number of parking spaces that the gym, spa, offices and retail space would all need during their combined peak time is 236. That peak time, they say, would occur between 11 a.m. and noon.
Commissioner Lauren Meister said the parking was a major concern. “David Barton parking should be consistent with what we’ve required of and the other gyms in West Hollywood,” she said. “It’s irresponsible of us not to have the correct number of spaces when they’re starting from scratch.”
The video billboard with four separate screens wrapping around the building and going up along the Horn Avenue side had many of the 30 residents who spoke during the public comment period concerned. They say the Sunset-Horn-Holloway intersection is already dangerous without a video billboard distracting people.
Commissioners shared those concerns and also worried about the video billboard going that far up the Horn side. Centrum plans to block the view of the video billboard at its northern end so that residents living on Horn will not be bothered by it.
Commission Chair Alan Bernstein suggested the four video screens should be unified to play one video rather than four separate ones.
Horn Avenue entrance
Many residents spoke against the proposed building entrance on Horn, saying the street is too narrow to accommodate the extra traffic. However, the commissioners said they believed the Horn entrance was the only way to prevent eastbound traffic on Sunset from attempting a U-turn at the Horn-Sunset intersection and doubling back to use the Sunset Boulevard entrance to the property.
The project developers plan to widen Horn by four feet at Sunset to accommodate the additional traffic. Residents said that would not be enough to alleviate the estimated 500 extra cars on Horn each day.
Bankruptcy affecting project?
One resident pointed out that David Barton Gym had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, wondering how that would affect the project. Centrum developer Sol Barket told the commission that the David Barton brand is still strong and he expects the cash problems to be resolved.
The bankruptcy talk worried the commissioners who said if Barton’s gym failed, the conditional use permit (CUP) they were approving would allow any gym to go into the space.
“I want to see David Barton on the Strip,” said Meister, “but it’s a CUP and any gym could go in there.”
In the end, the commissioners voted 6-0 to let the council decide the matter but made very detailed notes about their concerns to guide the council.
After the vote, Brian Lewis, a spokesperson for the Centrum Sunset project, told Weho Patch, “We’re pleased with the positive things the commission has said and we look forward to going on to council.”
The commissioners voted not to review a July 13 decision by Community Development Director Anne McIntosh to approve a for the old Laurel Hardware building at 7984 Santa Monica Blvd. (at Laurel).
Meister filed a request for review upon instruction from City Councilman John D’Amico, who appointed her to the commission. The Planning Commission has the right to review any decision made by the community development director, although it has rarely exercised it.
Meister said she filed the review request because residents had complaints about the procedure used in the director’s hearing at which McIntosh approved the restaurant. Meister also had concerns about how zoning laws were being used to meet the restaurant’s parking requirements. City zoning codes require the restaurant to have 32 spaces, but McIntosh approved the project’s plan to lease 19 spaces off-site.
Creating a precedent
Commissioner Marc Yeber was worried about setting a precedent by reviewing the director’s hearing. Commissioner David Aghaei concurred. “I don’t want us to start the practice of constantly questioning our director’s ability to act when this is something they do during the course of normal business,” he said.
Commissioner Donald DeLuccio assured the others that they were not creating a precedent. He said in his 14 years on the Planning Commission, the members have dealt with two other requests for review.
Assistant City Attorney Christi Hogin also told the commissioners that it would not create a problem precedent.
No citizen appeal
Yeber said he also had concerns about the fact that no resident had filed for an appeal about , something that would have cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Bernstein said there likely would have been a citizen appeal had Meister not announced she was filing the review request.
In the end, the commission voted 3-3 not to review the case. Since a majority had to approve the request, the motion failed. Aghaei, Yeber and Commissioner Sue Buckner voted against the review; Meister, Bernstein and DeLuccio voted for the review. Huebner was absent.
Resident Ed Buck, who is opposed to the Laurel Hardware restaurant, was angered by the vote. “All we wanted was to be heard,” Buck told Weho Patch. “And they wouldn’t even give us that.”
Buck said he had planned to file an appeal, but the city attorney originally told him that filing it would prevent the Planning Commission from reviewing it. “Then 36 hours before the deadline, he said, ‘Oh no, I was wrong,’ and we didn’t have time to do the appeal,” Buck said.
Hogin told Patch there had been some initial confusion about the appeal versus the request for a review, but the city had extended the original appeal deadline to July 29 because of that confusion.
After the meeting, Meister talked to Patch about the vote. “I’m disappointed because I don’t think my fellow commissioners understood the request,” Meister said. “It didn’t mean that anyone had to approve or disapprove of the project at that time. It was about reviewing a decision that the director had made. There were questions and concerns about the process.”