City staff members briefed a subcommittee of the West Hollywood Planning Commission on Thursday about the revamped Movietown Plaza development project.
The current design features two seven-story buildings that will house condominiums, down from 10 floors, and retail space totaling 26,000 square feet, which is a 20 percent reduction from the original design. There are also five- and six-story buildings that will have retail space and senior citizen apartment units on the property in the 7300 block of Santa Monica Boulevard.
The project remains very similar to the design approved by the City Council in 2010, according to a staff report. However, some changes have been made to the Santa Monica Boulevard facades, landscaping and other relatively subtle aspects of the design.
"The primary modification has been in the design of the exterior skin of each building," the report states. "The buildings remain in the modernist vocabulary with substantial glazing and balconies."
The commission's three-member Design Review Subcommittee responded with guidance to Community Development Department planners Emily Stadnicki and Stephanie Reich on how to advise the project's applicant.
Real estate developer Avalon Bay Communities has hired architectural firm Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh to design the project.
"I think it could be a little more transparent and a little more exciting," Planning Commissioner Roy Huebner said of the front facades that face Santa Monica Boulevard. "It looks a little disjointed and busy. I would like to see maybe a little more of the same symmetry that is on the rest of the building."
Planning Commissioner John Altschul agreed.
"My concern is that the Santa Monica frontage be vibrant, and be alive, and be something that attracts people's view ... and not come to the conclusion that it's just apartments over a store," Altschul added. "It's got to have some zest."
Planning Commissioner David Aghaei praised the reduction of the building's mass.
"It seems more in line and in scale with the other buildings in the surrounding neighborhood," he said.
Altschul noted that the square footage reduction indicated a change in land use, not the project's design. This deprives the city of commercial tax revenue and could require a new round of Planning Commission or city council approval, he said.
City planners will eventually decide when the project is ready for building permits.
West Hollywood residents attended the meeting and shared their views on the development.
"I appreciate the fact that this has been reduced in terms of height, but what I don't get is how a height reduction has any kind of significantly less impact on the community," Cathy Blaivas said. "It's fewer stories, but it's the same amount of apartments, it's the same amount of people, and this area is going to have a very difficult time handling the influx that's going to be happening within the next five to seven years."
City Council candidate Steve Martin favored more space buffering the buildings from Santa Monica Boulevard in order to create more opportunities for outdoor dining and make the property more walkable.