Faced with crucial zoning decisions over the next several months, the West Hollywood City Council has tentatively hired a Calabasas firm as its consultant in shaping a new community plan for the city.
The consultant, Envicom, was one of four planning firms under consideration from an original list of nine. Envicom still must receive final approval from the council, and a price for its services has not been set.
Envicom, a planning consultant for urban and suburban communities for 13 years, received strong recommendations from planning officials in several of those areas. Some of the highest praise came from Westlake Village and Lancaster, areas that recently incorporated.
"Everyone we talked to about Envicom had good things to say," said Councilman Stephen Schulte, who is on the council's subcommittee on planning and zoning. "Their strong suits were their planning experience, overall approach and ability to keep the communities apprised of the planning process.
"We expect them to work with us over the next 18 months to come up with a community plan that fits West Hollywood's needs," Schulte said.
Before the firm begins work on a new plan, however, it may have to redesign the city's zoning code and make recommendations on major commercial projects being pushed by developers.
Those projects and any revision of the zoning code may become the council's top priorities after a permanent rent-control law is passed, probably in June. The developments are expected to take on added urgency because the city's temporary moratorium on building--in effect since November--will expire July 31 unless renewed by the council.
"In past discussions with us, council members indicated they wanted us to revise the city's zoning ordinance before we tackled the overall plan," said Elwood Tescher, an Envicom vice president who will be the firm's chief liaison with the council.
At least four council members reportedly agree on the need for a zoning code revision in the near future. "I'd hope we could have a new zoning ordinance in place before the building moratorium phases out," said Councilman Alan Viterbi, who is on the planning subcommittee.
Developers Want Action
Any revision of the zoning code would probably require the council to rule on major planned commercial developments. According to council members, developers have been pressing for the council to decide on their ventures.
Several of the projects were proposed before the freeze on commercial developments last November and others have been drawn up in the intervening months.
The projects, according to council members and zoning officials, include plans by the Pacific Design Center to add a hotel and an office building to its complex at San Vicente Boulevard and Melrose Avenue; a proposal by developers Arthur Lawrence and Lorraine Howell for a hotel or mixed-use building near Beverly Boulevard and Melrose; renovation or replacement of the Tropicana Motel at La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards with a hotel; renovation of the abandoned Sunset Towers apartment complex in the 8300 block of Sunset Boulevard and a proposal to build Sassony Sunset Plaza, a four-story shopping center and mixed-use building in the 8300 block of Sunset.
Residents' Opinions Sought
Schulte said Envicom would have an advisory role in any decision on those and other commercial projects. "We'd certainly want to hear their recommendations," he said.
Developers' plans are not the only interests at stake in the planning process. Schulte and Viterbi said they want to involve community groups in crucial zoning and planning decisions. Schulte said Envicom's willingness to work with community groups in other communities was a strong factor in its selection as consultant.
Kyle Kollar, planning director for the recently incorporated city of Lancaster, told West Hollywood officials that Envicom generated a "tremendous amount of citizen participation," setting up residents committees to help develop the city's General Plan.
But Viterbi said he wanted Envicom to strengthen its citizen participation plans for West Hollywood. "I'd like to see them involve citizens in more than just public hearings and committees," he said. "We're hoping for something along the lines of neighborhood workshops, where the planners can involve groups in smaller settings and talk to each neighborhood to find out what they want."
Envicom's Tescher agrees: "If you don't get the community's support in any plan, it's a useless document."
Citizen participation would be most critical, Viterbi said, during creation of West Hollywood's community plan, a process expected to take at least 18 months.
When the new city was formed last November, it temporarily adopted a community plan that was passed in 1981 by the county Board of Supervisors. But all council members have expressed dissatisfaction with the county's plan and would prefer to develop new guidelines.
"There are two major questions that the community plan has to resolve," Schulte said. "How do we balance the need for new development with our intense density and traffic problems? And how do we maintain the small-town character that makes West Hollywood so appealing?"