A proposed Sunset Strip hotel received its sixth extension to start construction as the Planning Commission reluctantly gave its unanimous support to the 12-year-old project at its meeting Thursday night.
In 1999, the commission approved the 189-room Hotel Astra at 8950 Sunset Blvd. In the 12 years since then, the project, which has changed its name to the James Hotel, has been unable to secure financing.
City staff recommended approving the latest extension request, because the James Hotel fills objectives of the Sunset Specific Plan for the property. Staff said the large lot that has been vacant for many years will provide tax revenue to the city and create much needed meeting and conference-room space that many of the city’s other hotels are lacking.
“The applicant has demonstrated good faith in getting investors and getting permits,” Francisco Contreras, city planner overseeing the project, told the commission.
Attorney Jim Arnone, representing the James Hotel, explained that the project's bottom fell out of construction financing in 2007. However, in the last year, hotel financing has begun to turn around, Arnone said, and they are now confident they can get investors.
The James Hotel has agreed to pay a $1 million fee, which it will lose if construction does not commence by October 2013. When the hotel received its fifth extension in 2009, it paid a $500,000 fee, which it has now forfeited.
Commissioners Lauren Meister and Sue Buckner both said they were was concerned about the number of extensions, but worried what might ultimately go in the space if they did not approve it.
“We might end up with something bigger that would have more negative impacts,” Meister said.
Commissioner David Aghaei liked the project, but said, “the sixth extension is a little ridiculous.” Commissioner Alan Bernstein added, “The fifth hearing felt a little extreme too.”
Nonetheless, the commission approved it unanimously, but warned they would not be open to another extension.
Parking credits program
The commission also gave its unanimous approval to the proposed new , which would change the way the city handles the zoning-code required parking for businesses.
to the commission about the proposed program. with city staff to discussing "parking credits."
Aghaei liked the program, but cautioned it might have “unintended benefits” for business owners who are more active in the city.
Meister also liked the parking credits program, but wanted to see disincentives created for net loss of parking spaces when businesses remodel or new construction starts.
“If we continue to lose parking spaces, it’s just going to defeat the purpose of having this program,” Meister said.
Bernstein felt the new program was a vast improvement over the existing parking program. “I think this is wonderful,” Bernstein said. “I’m excited to see how it works out.”
Both Commissioners Marc Yeber and Roy Huebner were absent from the meeting. This was Yeber’s first absence in many months. However, it was Huebner’s third absence since joining the commission four months ago.
Commissioners are permitted two absences per year, then are subject to disciplinary action. It will be up to Mayor John Duran, who , to take any action. Huebner previously served for many years as Duran’s appointee to the Public Facilities Commission.
Yeber and Huebner were both present at , as were Aghaei and Meister. Absent from that session were Commissioners Donald DeLuccio, Bernstein and Buckner. Since Wednesday was a special session not held on the regularly scheduled commission night, it is not clear whether those absences will count toward the overall permitted absences.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the city must make it possible for all residents to participate in meetings and accommodate whatever special needs a person has. For 91-year-old, hard-of-hearing resident Jeanne Dobrin, those accommodations include hearing devises to boost the sound and closed captioning on the TV monitor in the room.
At Thursday night’s meeting, neither the hearing device nor the closed captioning were working, rendering Dobrin unable to participate. The closed captioning came on about 30 minutes into the meeting and worked for the rest of time. However, there was no closed captioning for the entirety of the . The hearing device was reported to have been broken by children playing basketball in the auditorium.
Bernstein chastised city employees for failing to assure these devices were working. Dobrin attends every Planning Commission and City Council meeting, so her needs are well known to city staff. Dobrin now has grounds for a lawsuit, which she threatened to file if her ADA rights are violated again.