The West Hollywood City Council heard another appeal for a large, mixed-use housing project Monday evening. The project, which would span a six-parcel area – specifically, 8527-8555 Santa Monica Boulevard and 8532-8552 N. West Knoll Drive – would mean the following:
- Approximately four acres
- 111 apartments, 17 of which will be designated as affordable
- 15,494 square feet of commercial live/work use (12 units)
- 14,488 square feet of retail space
- 6,711 square feet of office space
- 3,938 square feet of restaurant use
- 3,643 square feet of personal use/hair salon use
- 347 parking spaces
The project was first submitted back in 2012 and was later considered and approved as complete in 2016. But the developer later purchased an additional parcel to add to the project and then redesigned it in its entirety. This prompted an ethics disclosure by two council members, Chelsea Byers and Mayor Pro Tem John Erickson. Byers submitted a letter of support for an earlier iteration of the proposed property in 2019, and Erickson had begun his service on the Planning Commission, sitting for a presentation on the proposal in March of that year.
Neither Byers nor Erickson has involved themselves in hearings or any proceedings of the new iteration of the proposed development. Nevertheless, City Attorney Lauren Langer was required to ask each of the council members a series of questions to affirm that they could hear the appeal of the project with an open mind. Both complied.
According to the staff report, “This project is subject to the Housing Accountability Act (HAA) as the project is 70 percent residential, exceeding the two-third residential threshold required under the HAA…As a qualifying HAA housing development project, the project can only be denied with findings of a specific, adverse impact to the public health and safety that cannot be satisfactorily mitigated.”
Laurie Yelton with the West Hollywood Planning Department told council members that despite meeting HAA requirements, the proposed project inspired more than 2,000 pages of public comment on its merits and its environmental impact report (EIR).
The Appellant opposing the project, Carol Weiner, bases her appeal on four claims:
- The project was improperly deemed complete in 2016 due to an expanded project scope (due to the purchase of the additional parcel)
- The project does not comply with either the 2016 or 2019/2020 General Plan and Zoning Code Standards
- The EIR does not address certain issues
- The proposal does not address how utilities will be provided and existing easements replaced
Yelton, reading from the staff report, countered each of the claims exhaustively. She noted, in briefer terms, that the Permit Streamlining Act does not prevent developers from altering projects after submission; that the HAA supersedes local development codes; that the EIR didn’t add any significant impacts; and that the developer is already working with Edison and LADWP on electrification issues, and that groundwater had been identified.
She also stated that an alternative site was not a viable option as no other likely site would mitigate construction noise significantly in any other portion of West Hollywood. Ultimately, she stated that the council should be confident in approving the project, certifying the EIR, and approving the mitigation monitoring plan.
Councilmember Lauren Meister asked why the issue of identifying utilities wasn’t included in a public hearing on the entitlement of the proposed development. Yelton replied that utilities are rarely if ever discussed in the entitlement process, and she only received the Edison plan as a result of the Appeal triggering something akin to a discovery process.
“But residents did bring up the issue back in 2019, which you would think would be addressed when it went to public hearing. It is an environmental impact…it’s part of the EIR,” pressed Meister. Another staffer said that some analysis was included by the environmental consultant in the report, but that the detail Meister is inquiring about did not reach staff until more recently.
Mark Lehman, a land use and real estate attorney and resident, spoke on behalf of those opposing the project. He said, “I’ve been doing this for many years. I have never had a situation where a project was so blatantly defective at the date of it being deemed complete.”
Representing the developer was Nikki Carlsen, who, in thanking city staff, said, “This was a bit of a messy appeal, a little haphazard…but they sifted through all of it to prepare what was certainly a lengthy staff report for all of you but it really goes through all of the issues – many of which were already raised and we’ve heard about, and the Planning Commission went through in great detail.” She then went into what she said was her most important point of the night, which is that the project is subject to the HAA. “That act really compels approval of the project and the rejection of this appeal.”
Adam Kaufman, President of the West Hollywood North Neighborhood Association, asked the council to add language to anything they approve that would ensure the sound wall intended to mitigate the effects of construction noise from the project wrap entirely around the construction zone. He fears the current language allows a large gap along West Knoll Road, the portion closest to other residents.
Mayor Sepi Shyne asked Carlsen to clarify if the sound barrier would indeed surround the entire project. Carlsen admitted it would not, as she said sound walls for projects like this are only meant to protect neighboring parcels, not sides of the project that face a street.
“I think there would be a big problem for the city to have processed this application under the city’s conclusion that it was deemed complete, and now at the last minute, somehow decide otherwise,” said Councilmember John Heilman. He added, “This will add 111 apartment units in the city, something we need as a community, and – even if we don’t need it – the state has mandated that we build a certain number of units in the city.” He also said the site currently is “not particularly attractive,” and said it also fails to “fulfill the needs of the community.” But Heilman was sympathetic to extending sound mitigation measures to the West Knoll Road side of the development.
Councilmember Chelsea Byers also said “the asks around the sound wall seem reasonable,” and called for documentation of existing conditions on the site. She also called for site conditions to be documented not only for this development but for all projects going forward.
Mayor Pro Tem John Erickson says he hears from friends that live on the north side of West Knoll Road that they already hear a great amount of noise coming from Santa Monica Boulevard. He also supports adding relief for those residents by expanding the planned mitigation boundary. He called the current site a “blank parking lot,” and says it needs to become “something vibrant.”
Mayor Shyne, echoing Byers and other colleagues, also feels a survey of the site conditions should take place and that Edison should offer neighbors a public meeting to discuss the undergrounding of electricity infrastructure.
The Appeal was denied, and the project and its EIR were accepted, with several notable conditions, on a unanimous 5-0 vote.
Photo Extracted from Staff Report
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