The West Hollywood City Council voted to postpone talks around a potential building revitalization around Sunset Blvd at its council meeting Monday night. The project would replace a traditional static billboard with a two-sided electric billboard at 8501 Sunset Boulevard, colloquially known as the Sterling Building. 

Additional modifications to the building would be approved as part of the project to allow these billboards to be positioned directly above its rooftop. Concerns from residents about lighting and other potential issues near the project led the council to put it on hold.

Each board is planned to be 1,000 square feet, slightly larger than the traditional billboard at 954 square feet. The east-facing board will be square and more vertical than the west-facing billboard, which is shaped more like a traditional horizontally rectangular billboard.

The billboards would be placed on a 3D printed mesh and extend in an L-shaped pattern from the eastern edge of the rooftop to above its center where the billboards would be placed. This mesh allows sunlight to pass through and be illuminated at night for aesthetic effect.

A perforated metal screening would cover the supports and other visual clutter that traditional billboards could not hide. On top of this, the interior of the Sterling Building itself would be transformed from its current abandoned state into a two-story, open-air floor plan. The intent of the design is to be used by the city for arts programming under a long-term lease after 30 years of vacancy.

However, Councilmember Lauren Meister believed that the proposed use of the building — an art gallery space — was not an ideal way to use the space for daily use, instead suggesting the developer rent out the space at discounted rates to small and Black, Indigenous, and person-of-color (BIPOC) run businesses.

Sign faces are planned to illuminate at a level of 300 candelas — equivalent to the light of about 300 candles — which alongside the mesh illumination comply with city policy for lighting. A study on the potential light impact was also presented to the council that demonstrated that the maximum amount of light that would reach Sunset Boulevard from the billboards and mesh would be just 1.5 candelas per square foot.

This knowledge did not quell the concerns of nearby residents, with one noting that the total billboard space would be over twice the size of the currently standing set-up. The proposed project would increase the height of the top of the billboard from 55 feet 11 inches to 73 feet,10 inches according to project planning documents.

“Taking a single billboard and replacing it with two billboards with an overall greater visual and light impact is simply too much, too bright, and has too much negative impact,” resident Ann Leslie Uzdavink said at the meeting.

Driver distraction was also a concern amongst two of the three speakers in person to comment on the item, with one even pointing out a particular intersection on Sunset they are concerned about.

“We fear that the east-facing billboard may distract drivers and fail to see cars turning left onto [Miller Drive] resulting in potential collisions,” said Ellen Evans, who spoke at the meeting representing the Doheny Sunset Plaza Neighborhood Association.

West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Genevieve Morrill called in to support the motion, noting the artistic direction in which the city hoped to take the Sunset Boulevard corridor and how this design fits into that vision.

“The billboard policy is exactly what the city envisioned — to create art out of these billboards,” Morrill said, “The company has thoughtfully developed a communication vehicle that integrates structural design, lighting, and messaging into a work of art.”

Councilmember John Heilman noted he lives close to the building and would love to see it activated, but noted that he also had concerns about the distractive nature of the billboards and the fact that they are full-motion.

“The default policy that we established was that signs should change after a certain number of seconds,” Heilman said, “and that was done after careful consideration for policy reasons, for safety, and because of the distracting nature of full motion signage.”

City staff noted that they had monitored programs from other cities that allowed them to facilitate these smaller businesses entering discounted lease agreements when Vice Mayor Chelsea Lee Byars inquired about the possibility. Byars said she supports this project as a way to create meaningful transformation.

“On a place like this on Sunset, we need more people attracted to the space to take up the businesses that exist and support them,” Byars said. “In general, I am very supportive of this.”

While Mayor John Erickson also expressed his support for the project, he also believed that there were issues presented at the meeting that would not be solved that night, and would thus need to be pushed back to an undetermined date.

I understand the impact to the community, specifically the residents of West Hollywood,” Erickson said. “That is my first priority.”

A motion to table the item to a future meeting passed 5-0.

Photo rendering from a staff report.

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