If there’s a housing project passed by the West Hollywood Planning Commission, it’s becoming clear to Westside Voice that it’s sure to face an appeal.
That was once again the case on Monday night when the city council considered a 90-unit apartment development at 1305-1317 Crescent Heights Blvd that would include 14 affordable units. Specifically, the development would feature 55 one-bedroom units, 31 two-bedroom units, and four two-bedroom townhouse units.
Those appealing the project contend that the project should have been reviewed by the Historic Preservation Commission as a “potential cultural resource.” Currently, the property houses Temple Beth-El, a preparatory college, and two banquet hall facilities.
However, a third-party consultant surveyed the property in 2016 and found it ineligible for national, state, or local historic designation. Further, the National Park Service says religious properties only qualify if they also have a secular benefit, such as a significant architectural accomplishment. Therefore, city staff considered the site ineligible for consideration by the Historic Preservation Commission. The synagogue had been located at more than one previous location.
In remarks explaining her appeal, Lynn Russell said, “This appeal is focusing on the accuracy of the process and the protocols. I am not discussing any aspects of religion beyond those of the staff report.” She also expressed some disappointment in not receiving a continuance on the matter when it went before the Planning Commission, feeling she had given a legitimate argument.
She added, “Rightful protection of our cultural heritage is an important aspect for any involved in community. But the process should be thoughtful, accurate, and not perceived as arbitrary.” She claims the four-parcel site was essentially judged on just the portion at the 1317 address, and mislabeled as in the survey. She later accused staff and commissioners of “ignorance” in executing their duties.
Michael Lewis, speaking for the applicants to build on the property, said, “The facilities available at this site, including a preparatory school, a Jewish college, a thousand-seat synagogue, and banquet facilities for 600 people – and only 140 parking spaces – is just not compatible with the surrounding residential development for anyone wishing to make full use of the property.” Lewis referred to a couple of previous attempts to redevelop the site as proof that the community members currently using the facility know they need to relocate. He also repeated the fact that multiple sources have confirmed there is no historical basis to spare the property as it exists.
During public comment, Judson Feder, representing the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, spoke in favor of the appeal, saying, “The Alliance urges the city council to obtain a fair and independent third party historic resource assessment before allowing any demolition permits to be issued. Using the firm of GPA Consulting to now conduct a quick and dirty new assessment is inappropriate.” He added, “GPA Consulting lacks credibility with respect to this project because their 2016 citywide commercial historic resources survey misidentified and dismissed as ineligible the entire complex.”
But Allen Nazanian, a former elected member of the Iranian American Jewish Federation (IAJF), countered that he wants the current tenants to experience a successful move and thrive elsewhere, adding “It’s just not working here.” And of the proposed project, said, “This is what the city needs. It doesn’t need an empty synagogue.”
In rebuttal, Russell claims Lewis made several erroneous remarks in his “revisionist history” of events related to the property. In his rebuttal, Lewis said, “I don’t think we should confuse sentimental attachment with historical significance.”
Seeming to address Feder’s assertion, Councilmember Chelsea Byers asked staff to clarify that “Time beckons us to update these surveys, and because that survey is being updated, that’s what forced this additional pass [by the property] in 2023?” To which staff affirmed she was correct.
Councilmember John Heilman said, “I do think it is important that there be a relocation plan.” He then added, “I heard the representative of the applicant assure us and assure the community that they would work with the school and the representatives of the temple, and give them sufficient notice and work with them on relocation. And I’m going to take them at their word, but I also think we should direct our staff to make that a condition of any approval.”
Heilman’s recommendation was added to a motion to deny the appeal. Byers and Councilmember Lauren Meister added comments that the state, under the Housing Accountability Act, implores cities to approve developments like this.
The appeal was denied, 4-0. Mayor Sepi Shyne recused herself from the discussion as her residence is within 500 feet of the proposed development.
Photo from developer via city staff report