Residents will have an to study the 2,300 page Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Centrum Sunset project. The Planning Commission voted Thursday to continue the hearing until August 4.
A standing-room-only crowd was on hand in West Hollywood Park Auditorium for the five-hour meeting, which heard two controversial items – the and a zone text amendment proposal that would make it easier to convert historic apartment buildings into condominiums.
The Centrum Sunset project from developer Sol Barket proposes to demolish the old Tower Records building at 8801 Sunset Blvd. Barket wants to replace it with a 52,000-square-foot building with retail shops at ground level, a specialty gym/spa on the second level and office space on the third level.
The commission voted 6-0 to continue the project. Commissioner Roy Huebner recused himself as he has business dealings with David Barton, owner of the proposed specialty gym.
The commission said they wanted more information about traffic impacts, parking within the structure, a proposed parking deck exit on Horn Avenue and the building’s billboards. They initially proposed continuing it until September 1, but Centrum Sunset representatives pushed for the August 4 date.
The project proposes having two billboards – one 14-by-36-foot billboard on the southern façade and a video billboard, consisting of four separate video screens wrapping around the southeast side of the building. These billboards would require a zoning change since the 15-year-old Sunset Specific Plan guiding development along the Sunset Strip does not allow for billboards in that area.
During public comment time where 46 people spoke, those electronic billboards proved a hot topic, many commenting on the glare they would create especially at night. Others called them a distraction to pedestrians and drivers alike in an already dangerous, congested area.
One resident jokingly made her point, “People can’t drive and do their texting with the video signage distracting them.” Noting the lucrative aspect of Sunset Strip billboards, another resident called it, “A number of billboards looking for a building to hold them up.”
As for the building itself, some called it too large for the area. Others liked the design of the multi-level, curving building. Resident James Litz called it “a little bit LA Live, a little bit Hollywood & Highland, a little Gehry and a little Weho Library.”
Others praised the project, saying the exclusive, upscale David Barton gym belongs in West Hollywood.
The public comments ran about 70 percent against the project, 30 percent for it.
Spot zoning change
City Hall staff recommended a zoning ordinance text amendment that would create incentives for converting apartment buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places into condominiums. Those incentives include Mills Act tax abatements and waivers of permit fees and affordable housing requirements.
Several public commenters called this item “spot zoning” since it seemed aimed at one building in particular – El Mirador at 1302 N. Sweetzer (at Fountain), owned by Jerome Nash.
After years of trying to repair aging windows in the 32-unit building only to be blocked by various city regulations and commissions, Nash finally evicted all the tenants under the Ellis Act. Nash told Weho News he planned to leave the building empty for five years. The city offered him several alternatives, including making El Mirador a hotel or converting it to condos.
Commissioner Marc Yeber said he was “incensed that this was brought forward because of one property.” Commissioner Donald DeLuccio said for a city founded on renters’ rights, the proposal was insulting. Newly sworn-in Commissioner David Aghaei said the ordinance seemed like putting on a Band-Aid and not dealing with a bigger problem.
In the end, the commission rejected the proposal as written. However, they did make a recommendation to City Council to explore incentives for owners to rehab their historic buildings and to help owners of rent-stabilized apartment buildings stay in the apartment rental business. They also encouraged the council to create better condo conversation policies.
The commission voted in Commissioner Alan Bernstein as the new chair, replacing Yeber whose year as chair was up. Commissioner Sue Buckner was voted vice-chair.
The commission also welcomed Aghaei and praised former Commissioner John Altschul for his 15 years of service on the Planning Commission. and instead appointed Aghaei.
During opening comments, Aghaei said he knew he had big shoes to fill and hoped to “someday reach the John Altschul level.” Bernstein called the 75-year-old Altschul a “valuable asset to the city of West Hollywood” and looked forward to seeing what he does next.