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After a compromise between Kings Road developers and a neighborhood group was reached, the West Hollywood Planning Commission ended a yearlong halt to a project and approved plans to resume development last Thursday.
The project’s development firm, Kings 826 LP, submitted the new design, for an approximately 37,335-square-foot, four-story, 25-unit building with subterranean parking on July 27, that neighbors now support. The project includes 16 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units. The units range in size from 961 to 1,782 square feet.
The commission had approved plans almost exactly one year earlier on Oct. 2, 2014 for Kings 826 LP, to build a five-story, 34-unit apartment building at the site. Eleven days later, the city received an appeal from the neighborhood group, United Neighbors for Reasponsible Development (UNReD), citing that the development, coupled with other projects scheduled for the street, would cripple infrastructure and cause adverse environmental effects. The group’s concerns included lack of parking, adverse traffic effects and the overall size of the development.
On May 4, the West Hollywood City Council considered the proposal; more than 100 residents attended, voicing opposition. Although the plans met city zoning requirements, the council requested the developers consider an alternative design that addressed the neighborhood group’s concerns by removing five on-site affordable housing units and four incentive “bonus” units, and they sent the plans back to the planning commission.
Demetri Darmos, a developer with Kings 826 LP, and Cynthia Blatt, founder of UNReD, met after the project was remanded and started to work on a plan that better serves everyone involved. Blatt and Darmos said they didn’t meet before the council reviewed the appeal, but if they had, most of the delays could have been avoided.
“It was great working with Cynthia,” Darmos said. “I took a lot from that meeting and subsequent meetings.”
Blatt said UNReD members feel the developers are more a part of the community now, and that they care about the neighborhood’s needs. She said the meetings to revise the plans helped because at the required community meetings for the original plans, the architects and developers used language that didn’t resonate with any of the neighbors.
“It seemed that it was already designed, and they didn’t care what they were doing to us and what the other alternatives were to include affordable housing, and how they might actually work with the community,” she said. “All [the neighbors] heard was that it was going to be five stories looming over us with short set backs.”
Darmos said the development team plans to own the structure for “a very long time.”
Blatt said during the first proposal’s process, UNReD members didn’t believe developers because she believes most want to “flip” developments which they would attempt to sell in three to five years, and that neighbors didn’t trust the development team after the original community meetings.
“If you find a really good location, you don’t get rid of it, because good luck finding another one,” Darmos said to the contrary. “We really love this location and we want to keep it and we want to build something beautiful and have it fit in with the neighborhood. We wanted to make sure it’s a really great place for the residence and for the neighbors as well.”
Darmos said an incentive to provide affordable housing was that the city wouldn’t require the developers to include guest parking in the first proposal. Blatt said parking spaces are not something that should be flexible when developing in dense areas.
“We don’t see that as flexibility. We see that as a detriment in a city that’s 1.89 square miles with four potential developments on the same street,” she said.
Instead of allowing large structured, high-unit residential buildings, Blatt said West Hollywood should find more ways to support senior or working-class affordable housing that takes into account the cumulative effect of surrounding developments.
With nine fewer units planned, the development is allowed more “breathing room” from the base of the building to its surrounding structures. The complex will now have 52 on-site parking spaces, four more than required for the project, in a subterranean garage. The project also calls for tandem parking spaces to accommodate additional, non-required, on-site parking spaces – a revision that neighbors called “huge” for the community.
West Hollywood’s historic preservation commission (HPC) supported the new design and “commended” the architect on a “beautiful building,” according to the staff report. HPC members appreciated that the developers and neighbors came to an agreement on a building that was suitable for both parties, and did not believe there would be significant adverse impacts to either of the designated cultural resources within public view – the Schindler House at 835 N. Kings Road, and The Charlie Hotel at 819 N. Sweetzer. Blatt explained the Schindler House and Charlie Hotel depend heavily on tourists who need places to park.
Blatt, Dylan Treivush, general manager of The Charlie Hotel, and Kevin Stalter of the Kings Plaza Homeowner’s Association wrote letters in support of the new plans.
“Mr. Darmos has worked tirelessly to please everyone possible and I believe he has succeeded,” Treivush’s letter read.
The design review subcommittee also supported the redesign as well. Last week, since the revised plans met city code requirements, the planning commission approved the project, completing the project’s review process for a second time.
“One of the things we could have done was meet really early on, prior to putting any pencil to paper with the neighbors and the community before the mandatory neighborhood meetings,” Darmos said. “We did do a neighborhood meeting in the early stages of the project, but by then we’d already committed financially to a design and to a certain level of engineering. A developer at that point is maybe not so willing to make any big changes.”
He said meetings between developers and neighbors don’t have to be something “prescribed” by the city, but through efforts by developers.
“I think we know that going forward, and that’s what we plan to do – similar to what we’ve done for the revised version of this project,” Darmos said. “We met early many times while going through changes and adjustments and made sure the community was on board with what we’re doing to move forward.”
Darmos and Blatt agreed that the situation at 826 N. Kings Boulevard shows that neighborhoods and developers can work together so everyone affected is satisfied.
Blatt said she plans to set up a meeting between community members and developers for the different projects on the Kings Road to propose changes to plans and city development protocol.
The developers hope to break ground at 826 Kings Rd. in the spring.
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