How many banks should be on the Sunset Strip? That was the question before the Planning Commission on Thursday night as city staff proposed putting a cap on those financial institutions.
There are currently seven banks on Sunset Boulevard between Phyllis Avenue (the city’s western border) and Horn Street, with one more due to open soon.
The city is concerned about this number because it wants to create an active, pedestrian-friendly street filled with shops (which generate sales-tax revenue for the city). Since banks are closed after dark, they don’t add to that vibrancy, instead creating dead zones that don’t encourage people to walk further down the sidewalk.
The city proposed limiting the number of banks on Sunset to six. The existing seven banks (and one more on the way) would be grandfathered in, but no new banks would be allowed to open in the area until others closed.
The city also proposed requiring 1500 feet between any financial institutions. It further wanted to limit banks to 25 feet of street-front footage, although more footage could be in the back of the building or on upper floors. The city said similar regulations are now in effect on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and are working well.
Genevieve Morrill, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce spoke against the proposal, saying putting a cap on the number of banks was wrong. She said the issue was one of urban design and all that was needed was to limit the street footage.
Commission Marc Yeber agreed that it was an urban design issue and called the proposal “a Band-Aid over a much larger problem.” He advocated putting a two-year moratorium on new banks on the Strip rather than adopting a zone-text amendment. He also recommended the city revisit the Sunset Specific Plan adopted in 1996.
Commissioner Alan Bernstein said the problem was less about the entity and more about urban design. He said banks were good tenants but 120 feet of street footage (as some banks on the Strip have) does create a dead zone.
Commissioner David Aghaei said that you have to let businesses do business but also shared concerns about the dead zones, saying, “you get to certain points on the Strip and you kinda don’t want to walk further.”
Commissioner John Altschul said they city always wants to encourage spectacular and exciting designs, something bank buildings generally lack. He suggested encouraging banks to move onto the second floor, something that would also make bank robberies harder.
In the end, the Commission voted 7-0 to continue the item until its Sept. 20 meeting and asked city staff to investigate some of its suggestions in the interim.