Monday's five-hour City Council meeting marked the removal of 400 parking spaces from the Sunset Millennium project and the end of an affordable housing plan for the pocket green space at 1343 N. Laurel Ave.
In an expected 3-2 vote, the council removed the from the plan for . In voting for the ordinance, Mayor John Duran called the protracted battle over the fate of the house known as “” one of the “more divisive issues that I have experienced as a member of the City Council.”
Duran noted that when the plan for the property first came before the council, he supported the idea of preserving the house, building affordable housing in the rear of the property and creating a small park in the house’s front yard. He said his position has changed because the plan was “trying to put a little too much of everything into one piece of property.”
In voting against the idea, Councilwoman Abbe Land said she was disappointed that the council would not be able to go ahead with the affordable housing plan, calling it a “missed opportunity for the community.”
Councilman John Heilman also voted against the plan, saying that low-income residents who need affordable housing will suffer. He also questioned where the money would come from for rehabbing the house.
“I understand that we don’t have the funding now for the [affordable] housing,” Heilman said, “but we also don’t have the funding for the historic preservation.”
Although many in attendance cheered when the council voted to remove the affordable housing, City Attorney Mike Jenkins pointed out that the panel cannot yet consider the temporary Laurel Park a permanent park until hearing from residents.
Jenkins noted that the California Supreme Court ruled the city did not get adequate public input before proceeding with the plan for affordable housing on the property. He said residents must be allowed to have that same input now into what the city ultimately does with the property.
The council also agreed to a plan to reduce the number of parking spaces in the yet-to-be-built eastern portion of the Sunset Millennium project at Sunset and La Cienega. City staff reported that parking in the already built western portion of Sunset Millennium, which houses the clothing store and the gym, was not fully utilized in nighttime hours.
The original plan for the Millennium’s east parcel called for the proposed hotel on the site to include 435 spaces above the code required parking. Since parking at the west parcel was not being fully used, the developer said there was no need for the extra parking on the east parcel.
The developer, Sunset Millennium Associates, has invoked a force majeure delay in the development agreement, because it was unable to secure financing for the eastern portion due to the poor economy.
A new developer said it will complete the project, but wants to eliminate 385 parking spaces. Its proposal still includes 50 spaces— more than the code requires. It also wants to eliminate a tunnel going under La Cienega, connecting the parking garages on the east and middle portion of the Millennium project.
The developer pointed out that the extra 435 spaces were intended for use by patrons of the , a block away. Since the original Millennium agreement, the council has approved the Sunset Time project, which would demolish the House of Blues building. Sunset Time is required to have 100 percent of its parking on-site.
In exchange for reducing the number of Millennium parking spaces, the developer proposed assessing a 1 percent fee (based on room rates) on hotel guests. That fee is in addition to the hotel tax guests already pay for their room.
In approving the plan 4 to 0 (Heilman recused himself since he lives within 500 feet of the project), the council specified that the fee should be paid directly into a city parking fund to build future parking. Duran noted that there is no point in building parking where it is not needed, but this fund could help build parking where it is needed.
Many residents spoke against this idea, saying losing 385 spaces was far from “minor” as the staff report had termed it. Others pointed out there was no notice sent out about this change and that the proposal should go before the Planning Commission first.
Several residents also noted that accepting the force majeure portion of the agreement could have been legally separated from the parking reduction proposal. However, the council opted not to do that.
The council also discussed the proposed General Plan, which will guide development throughout the city for the next 25 years. After a city staffers came back with a revised proposal that incorporated many of the ideas residents suggested at that meeting.
The height of future buildings was the main focus of the council’s discussion. Residents had said they did not want to see buildings go any taller than three stories, maybe four. However, a number of existing “bonuses” currently allow developers to further increase height.
Under state law, if a project includes affordable housing, the developer can add 10 feet to the height. The city also has incentives that allow a project to go 10 feet higher if it is a mixed-use development, 15 feet higher if there is public parking included.
The council discussed ways to reduce these heights. The state-required affordable housing bonus cannot be eliminated, but the city-sponsored bonuses could be removed. Councilman John D’Amico suggested allowing only one bonus be used on any project.
Mayor Pro Tempore Jeff Prang, echoing residents' sentiments, said he did not want to see any building go above a 45-foot maximum height.
Heilman suggested establishing time limits under which a developer gets to use the mixed-use bonus or loses it. He said he did not like seeing developers go through the entitlement process only to sell off the fully entitled land for someone else to develop later.
The council voted to continue the General Plan discussion at its meeting Sept. 6.
Prang severely criticized the Planning Commission’s decision to “punt” rather than make a recommendation about the Centrum Sunset project at 8801 Sunset Blvd., site of the old Tower Records building.
At its the Planning Commission passed the Centrum Sunset project on to the council without recommendation, instead offering notes on items about which they had concerns—parking and the billboards associated with the project.
“I was dissatisfied that our appointees, who made what appears to be a political decision, didn’t want to take the criticism, so they let council take the criticism,” Prang said.
“I depend on the Planning Commission recommendation to determine my judgment on things. I look forward to input they have. I hope [council members] will speak to your various commissioners and urge them to not punt on issues, but to weigh in and let us know what they think,” Prang added.