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Planning Commissioners, Residents Weigh in on Movietown

The Design Review Subcommittee calls for a more inviting, pedestrian-friendly project.

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.

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judson greene December 15, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Here's a few thoughts regarding this project. You have to prove there are ample supplies of WATER to sustain the viability of the project with adequate reserves. On one of the oldest grids in the power grid and assuming no more power is coming down Path 15 how did you supply power without impacting the grid and prove adequate reserves in the system? Well, if greening a project means you build full to the lot and then your retail spaces buy a permit for half the sidewalk I'm not exactly sure you greened our environment? Steve Martin offered you a very reasonable solution to us not tripping over your restaurant seats, please setback your spaces? Finally, I don't really believe our council members nor planning department really know the definition of planning. For us to encourage massive projects built full to the lot in our city truly undermines the breath of green space we need, light and air spatial relationships and finally why the hell are we the only city doing this? Cause I don't see Beverly Hills jamming their streets with traffic, choking traffic with more traffic nor any other town so committed to demolishing it's history, it's character and it's last open areas to concrete.
me December 15, 2012 at 06:30 PM
yuck, who'd even wanna live in that monstrosity????....it towers over everything else in the area....that is, until "the lot" (studio at SMB/formosa) builds their office tower across the side street.....will the eastside soon be our version of the sunset corridor in westwood????....who will stop the council from ruining our city completely???
Chloe Ross December 15, 2012 at 09:02 PM
The Movietown project is a very large building that is not in proportion to the surrounding residential neighborhoods. I agree with "Me", Cathy Blaivas and Judson Greene. I have lived here for 23 years. Do any of the "planning participants" actually live in this side of town - the blighted lower, lower east side of WeHo. So many more things need user friendly facades, design and scaled down proportions. Why aren't these behemoths being built on the west side of the city? The part where the "Avenues of Design" are located; the rainbow crosswalks, the chic Pavilions and the sky you can see. The corner of Doheny and SM (NE) could bear a large towering building - why not that corner? Why do all these overweaning, overarching projects get pushed to this end of town. Mr. Greene reads my mind when he mentions Beverly Hills - user friendly, lots of revenue streams and better oversight of its land use projects. Do they employ professionals? What a concept.
Ali December 16, 2012 at 12:46 AM
I pretty much agree with all 3 above commenters. But I wish Chloe would stop calling the east side blighted. That is what the Council calls it to justify all this over development. I don't know how you can call this project scaled down. Even at 7 stories, it doesn't fit in with the rest of the area. There are no other 7 story buildings anywhere close by. And, by just making each apartment/condo smaller, who is going to want to buy these units? I believe nobody is going to want to buy the units facing Santa Monica Blvd anyway. Or is that where they are going to put the seniors? In the noisy SMB facing units? Anyway you look at it, the project stinks. That part of SMB is gridlocked traffic all times of the day anyway. This project will just make it worse. Find a place on the west side for something like this. We have enough going with all the stuff being built on La Brea.
Rudolf Martin December 16, 2012 at 07:09 AM
of course we have a dilapidated strip mall there right now since all the small businesses got evicted. something has to be done. but this is another generic and still oversized design and we'll have more chain stores and gridlock to look forward to.
virginia gillick December 16, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I am so sorry I could not go to this meeting with the Planning Design Review. There are so many "issues" in West Hollywood one can hardly keep up with their own lives. This is a dreadful idea and yet, I feel certain that it will sail through. I have been saying for a long time that West Hollywood is the new Westwood. No longer a place to live. At the same time, I am happy that I am older now because I do not mind staying home. That's a good thing because a short run of errands now takes about 3 hours with the traffic on the eastside. I am sad that the City I moved to because of its mission statement is now overcrowded without any innovative ideas for the traffic problems.
joninla December 17, 2012 at 06:19 AM
I think most of the negative comments have merit, but the histroy of the City Council's decision making over large/mega developments do no take any of the real issues the Residents have and the unknown issues that will surely areise as more details come out. The Planning Commission is an absurd body of cherry picked appointees who can only offer their collective voted on 'opinions' which the City Council has no obligation to listen or follow them. It does make the concerned residents feel like they are able to affect major developments that will affect their homes/apartments/businesses/neighborhood, while the Developers go through with their plans knowing the Council will not stop the basic oversized project that has been greenlighted in closed door meetings. As for the style, I'll say again .... Double the height of the tower(s) and cut the foot print of the tower in half. Then place the taller tower in the middle of the property, making green open space, adequate driveway entry/exit and more desirable residences which might actually sell .... without the continuing "Canyon-ization" of SMB into a canyon of 5-7 story mixed used that go right up to the property lines and cut out all sunlight. MAKES FOR AN UGLY CITY
Ali December 18, 2012 at 01:15 AM
@joninla - do you not see that this project has multiple towers? Do you live on the east side? I, personally, do not want 2 14 story towers in my view. Your view on the style makes no sense. The current plan calls for 2 7-story towers. So how do you put a "taller" tower in the middle? They are both the same size. I agree about green open space. I don't want this built right up to property lines, but I don't think they are planning that anyway.
Ali December 18, 2012 at 01:17 AM
The east side is pretty dense. I still say the west side is due for some of these huge projects. The east side is full.
me December 18, 2012 at 04:58 AM
i agree with ali.....total bonkers!!!
michael December 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Another ugly west Hollywood complex. We seem to specialize in badly designed Buildings.
Chloe Ross December 20, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Ali - I use the term "Blighted" to remind the City what they have neglected. And yes it sounds grim because it is. I also live here. Van Tilburg is a very good architectural choice. The only light in what I perceive to be an ugly and oversized project that will overwhelm the property it is on and further turn our side of town into a high density, over driven and traffic nightmare. I do not like the project.
Chloe Ross December 20, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Having taken a closer gander at the exterior - this does not appear to be one of Van Tilburg's better efforts. I withdraw the above and reserve comment until the final renderings are submitted.
joninla December 22, 2012 at 07:14 AM
Sorry wasn't clear. My point, if keep identical number of units/sq footage and size, but reconfigure the whole project to be (for example) just one tall tower (like the few left over tall apartments/turned expensive condo) in the center of the property would allow for the green, driveways and avoiding the "Canyon Effect" of building up the edge of the property lines on all sides. A tall narrow tower with a lot of space around it is very much less obtrusive overall, to the neighbors adjacent and the people who will someday hopefully want to live in the project. I mean .... start from total scratch on the design, but not any larger or more square footage overall. Not going to happen, but everyone would be happier .... if that size project is going to be built.
Arthur RIng February 28, 2013 at 04:28 AM
I used to have a view of the Hollywood Sign from my kitchen window. I had a sunset view on the west side from my living room. Now the building I live in has tall buildings in both those spots and my place isn't nearly a nice. That is what all this development is doing all over the east side. I like the old rule of no more than two stories.

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