West Hollywood’s City Council finalized its approval for the rehabilitation of the historic 83-year-old El Mirador apartment building at its Tuesday night meeting, but not before debating the merits of the agreement during a protracted hour-and-a-half long discussion.
At its for the seven-story, 32-unit Spanish Colonial Revival apartment building on the northeast corner of Sweetzer Avenue at Fountain Avenue to convert to either an urban inn or condominiums. (For a more ).
Councilmember John Heilman and Mayor Pro Tem Abbe Land were opposed to the agreement, saying while they wanted to see the aging building restored, they were fearful of setting a precedent that other landlords of aging historic apartment buildings might later try to use to get a similar deal.
City Attorney Mike Jenkins assured the Council the development agreement was written in a way not to create precedent.
Mayor Jeff Prang called the agreement a lose-lose situation for the city and a win for the building’s owner, Jerome Nash. To reiterate that it was not establishing precedent, Prang said, “Nothing like this will ever come before the Council again and get my vote.”
Councilmember John D’Amico said the vote wasn’t the beginning of a precedent, but rather the end of an era because circumstances like this would never happen again.
Councilmember John Duran said the situation was the convergence of land use, historic preservation and rent stabilization policies, each of which has different priorities. Duran said the Council was struggling because it had never before had to determine how to balance all three concerns.
Which Use for the building?
The Council seemed most concerned about how Nash intended to use the building once it is rehabilitated at an estimated $4 million to $5 million price tag – condo, apartments or urban inn.
(Since Nash used the Ellis Act to evict the building’s tenants in September 2010, state law requires the building must remain empty for five years before he can return the building to the rental market at market rates; if he re-enters the rental market prior to that, he must first offer the units back to the Ellised tenants at the same rents they previously paid).
The Council wanted to lock in which of the three options Nash would use with approval of the agreement, the Council favoring the condos the most and the urban inn the least.
Jenkins said there was no way of predicting what the market would be like once the restoration is complete, explaining that the condo sales might be off, so Nash might have to explore other options. Thus the need for multiple options.
. Jenkins also conveyed to the Council that the urban inn was Nash’s desire.
Part of the development agreement includes waiving of almost $1 million in fees, $924,000 of which would have been paid into the city’s affordable housing fund.
The Council was unwilling to forgo that amount of money if El Mirador became an urban inn, a commercial venture. Since the Council was not keen on that option to begin with, it decided to create a disincentive for the urban inn.
The Council inserted language into the development agreement calling for Nash to pay the $924,000 into the affordable housing fund over a 15-year period if he chose the urban inn option.
The Council then approved the agreement on a 3-2 vote. Land and Heilman voted against it.