Until recently, the most conspicuous development in the vicinity of Santa Monica and La Cienega boulevards in West Hollywood was the rapid rise in the number of government workers in the temporary City Hall building.
But in the past few months, the neighborhood has been targeted for a spurt in commercial growth, including proposals for construction of a major hotel project and expansions of a popular athletic club and a custom furniture store.
Faced with the possibility of a drastically altered landscape and the probability of more automobile traffic on a street already clogged during peak rush hours, residents have responded with a development of their own.
Earlier this year, the neighbors formed the West Knoll Triangle Residents Assn. and plunged into the city's planning process.
"If all of these projects had been spaced out over a period of years, it might be different," said Walter Schlosser, president of the new group. "But they're all coming at us at once. We're afraid it's just too much for the neighborhood to absorb."
The West Knoll group is not opposing any of the developments, Schlosser said. But it is asking West Hollywood's Planning Commission to tailor them so that the size of the projects is in scale with the neighborhood and so that traffic and parking problems are mitigated.
The project that most concerns residents is a planned $20-million razing of the Tropicana Motel and its replacement with a larger, moderately priced hotel, apartment complex and shopping area.
The Tropicana is a 75-room motel bordered by slender palm trees. Its replacement, financed by Lake Savings & Loan Assn., would be a 178-room hotel with retail stores, restaurants and take-out eateries in the front, and a 42-unit apartment complex in the rear. The new hotel also would include 316 parking spaces.
Neighborhood residents are nearly unanimous in preferring the new development to the Tropicana.
"The Tropicana has been an eyesore and a police problem for a long time," said Inez Mogol, a Santa Monica Boulevard resident who testified at a Planning Commission hearing earlier this week in favor of the new project.
"We're glad to see (the new project)," Schlosser said after the hearing. "But we worry that it will be an affordable, upgraded version of the same thing."
Schlosser said room rates for the new hotel would vary only by $10 or $20 a night from the Tropicana's rates, which have been in the $40 to $60 range. He added that the new hotel, like the Tropicana, would not provide many of the services typically provided by hotels, such as room service and message delivery.
Yehuda Naftali, developer in charge of the Tropicana redevelopment, said the new hotel would attract a different clientele.
"We would like to attract people in the design industry who don't want to pay top hotel rates," he said. "We also would be the place for people who have business with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, people who would have higher standards than the people who stay at the Tropicana."
Naftali agreed that the hotel would not provide many of the typical services because he intends to charge lower rates than other luxury hotels in West Hollywood.
For that same reason, Naftali added, he would be reluctant to agree to any scaling down of his project. Arlen Andelson, an attorney representing Naftali's project, said any attempt to lessen the size of the project "would drive up our incremental costs. We're trying to keep our rents down to a figure with a five in front of it. That means $50 a night. Not $500."
But the West Knoll group would like to see the hotel reduced in size. "We don't yet have a specific size we would be more comfortable with," Schlosser said, "but we think the size of the project right now is too large for the neighborhood."
The Commission Agreed
The neighborhood group found some support from the Planning Commission earlier this week. During a discussion on a draft environmental impact report on the hotel project, the commission agreed in principle with a recommendation by Commissioner William Fulton that the report include a scaled-down alternative. Previously, the report had only considered the entire project, no project or the project without any apartment units.
"I think we need a detailed analysis in the report of a smaller hotel or apartment project," Fulton said.
On the commission's agenda earlier this week were three other projects that could affect residents near Santa Monica and La Cienega boulevards. They included plans by the Sports Connection, a popular athletic club, to build a three-story parking structure, and a proposed expansion by Gina B, a custom furniture store. A second athletic club on the boulevard, a block away from the Sports Connection, has plans to expand its building by 1,500 square feet.
Although the commission did not come to a decision on the three proposals, Fulton said the commission probably would order at least two of the projects to pay extra fees to help the city deal with some of the resulting traffic problems.
The city planning staff has suggested that a $30,000 fee be levied on the Gina B expansion and up to $75,000 be levied on the Sports Connection project, Fulton said.