A residential project that was proposed mostly on the Los Angeles side of the border was denied this week by the city of Beverly Hills because residents and owners would be “mooching off” their services without meeting city standards.
The Beverly Hills City Council unanimously voted against a project proposed to construct a 26-unit multi-family condominium at 332-336 N. Oakhurst Dr. on the city border between Alden Drive and Third Street. The plan included replacing three two-story apartment buildings with 17 units. The front portion of the project would have contained seven units in Beverly Hills, with 19 units in Los Angeles.
However, since the front faces Beverly Hills, the city council lamented the potential residents would benefit from a Beverly Hills address – including schools, fire and police departments, paid for by Beverly Hills taxpayers.
“[A Beverly Hills address] increases the values of the condos without a doubt,” said Councilwoman Kathy Reims. “We’re the only ones who wouldn’t be benefiting from it.”
“Our taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened by this,” Vice Mayor Nancy Krasne said.
Additionally, Beverly Hills had previously “ceded” its jurisdiction to Los Angeles as the “lead agency” when the project was first proposed because most of it is located on the other other side of the border. As lead agency, Los Angeles completed and approved the mitigated negative declaration (MND) for the project under the condition that Beverly Hills approve it as well.
But Councilwoman Lilli Bosse said it “in no way” represented Beverly Hills.
“I feel that it’s our job to maintain the character and zoning codes of Beverly Hills,” she said. “To me, it’s massive and in no way represents that neighborhood. In my mind, the community is being fair and reasonable here.”
The building’s maximum height was proposed to be three stories at 39 feet tall in Beverly Hills, and four stories and 52 feet tall in Los Angeles. The project will also include 77 parking spaces. The Beverly Hills Planning Commission approved a redesigned version, which included removal of the fifth story on the Los Angeles portion of the project, resulting in a reduction of total units. Beverly Hills city staff said in the agenda report on Tuesday that traffic analysis found impacts to the residential streets would be minimal.
Neighbor and appellant Steve Mayer challenged Los Angeles’ approval in Los Angeles Superior Court, and was initially unsuccessful in stopping the project. However, it was announced at the Beverly Hills City Council meeting on Tuesday that he filed an appeal to that decision as well.
Beverly Hills city staff addressed the concerns listed in Mayer’s appeals which included factors ranging from conflicts with city law to the mitigation measures prepared by the city of Los Angeles.
Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch laughed at the thought of taking Los Angeles’ approval process on merit alone.
“That’s why you have the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative,” he said, referring to Los Angeles’ ballot measure initiated by critics who allege corruption in city planning. “We should look at our own standards.”
Mirisch continued to describe Los Angeles’ development process as “shady” and “sometimes outright corrupt,” and that their neighboring city “never shows they have our best interests at heart.”
“A property with frontage on Beverly Hills and wants to be treated like Beverly Hills, then it should completely comply with Beverly Hills standards,” Mirisch said.
The council discussed possible scenarios in which Beverly Hills would be compensated wholly or at a percentage for city services and taxes, either through direct payment from the developer or a tax to renters and owners in an effort to recapture the value lost.
But ultimately they felt that the interests of Beverly Hills were not reflected in the project and they did not support the tract map findings, effectively denying the project.
“Our guys (police and fire department) are serving someone who really lives in Los Angeles, and gets our three-minute response times,” Reims added.
Bosse said she also worried that other developers were waiting to see what happened with this project, and would try to build on the border as well. Councilman Julian Gold said he was disturbed by the “sovereignty issue” with Beverly Hills versus “the gorilla” in Los Angeles.
“It’s a good project, but it’s driven by the Los Angeles side of the equation,” he said. “It’s 10 percent of the square footage on Beverly Hills, but a whole lot more cost to Beverly Hills.”
He added that Los Angeles would likely approve a project that met Beverly Hills’ standards, which are stricter on scale and aesthetics.
“The [Beverly Hills] community sounds like they’d be willing to do so as well,” he said. “I encourage you to do that.”
Bosse asked Mayer if he was opposed to development on the block, or just this particular project. Mayer explained he is not opposed to development, but said that this proposal is “out of line” with the neighborhood.
Mayer and opponents to the project also argued that Oakhurst is the “last untouched block” in Beverly Hills. Two buildings built in the 1930s, which the developer intended to demolish, were designed by Los Angeles’ first licensed female architect, Edith Northman.
Murray D. Fischer, attorney and representative with developing applicant, Oakhurst LLC, argued that his client brought the project into Beverly Hills code and conformance by adopting additional setbacks and reducing the height. He said every issue was addressed when Mayer appealed the project in Los Angeles and in court. He added that the neighborhood shouldn’t be thought of as a historic district considering 70 percent of property owners must request that it be considered historic, and they never have.
“We think we have done an excellent job in making this a compatible building,” he said. “I want to say enough is enough, and now we have to deal with another appeal [in Superior Court].”
Residents who opposed the project said the existing site is a “gem in the neighborhood,” and that the Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission should analyze it before any decisions are made.
Krasne said she doesn’t think the buildings warrant being saved and that they are “not in good shape,” and “yucky.” But with the concerns over the border and taxpayer burden, “we’re in bad form all the way around,” she said.
Krasne addressed the fact that she was on the Planning Commission when they voted to cede jurisdiction of the project, to Los Angeles because most of the project sat in Los Angeles.
“I was wrong, I was absolutely wrong. I probably cost this developer a lot of money, and for that I apologize,” she said. “Intensification does cause more traffic, and traffic is not just an inconvenience. It’s a threat to health safety and welfare to all in the city. This community says they don’t want it. I don’t want to take your rights, and I want you to develop it. But I think there is a responsible way to do that.”
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said after Beverly Hills’ vote that Los Angeles will need to figure out where it leaves them, and he will continue to meet with both sides.
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