The West Hollywood Planning Commission has approved the expansion of the Sports Connection athletic club, the first of several controversial development projects that have been proposed along a heavily congested stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard.
The commission's unanimous decision, issued Monday, will allow the club to expand its massive concrete and mirrored-glass gymnasium, add spaces for retail stores and restaurants and construct a three-story garage with parking for at least 300 cars.
But responding to neighbors' fears that the 15,200-square-foot expansion would increase traffic on the boulevard, the commission ordered the club to pay the city $75,000 in traffic mitigation fees.
The commission also required the club to provide free parking in its new garage for at least a year or until the surrounding neighborhood is able to get the City Council to approve a program restricting parking in the area to residents with permits.
Although many residents appear to have been satisfied by the conditions placed on the Sports Connection expansion, they continue to be displeased with the general level of development proposed for the Santa Monica Boulevard-La Cienega Boulevard area.
At the commission's Monday meeting, residents and community group officials paraded before the commission to complain about the increased development pressures, and in particular, plans to raze the 75-room Tropicana Motel and replace it with a 178-room motel.
"I can't walk on the boulevard anymore," said Connie Gerber, who lives near the boulevard, during a public hearing on the Tropicana project.
"The pollution stinks, the traffic stinks," Gerber said. "I just don't want this area to turn into a railroad yard. It's changing, and I hate it. I want my neighborhood back."
The neighbors' pressure appeared to pay off in the case of the Sports Connection.
Planning Commissioner William Fulton said that while the commission felt that the expansion was beneficial (particularly in providing more parking spaces for the athletic club, which now has space for only 110 cars), the residents' needs had to be met.
"We felt that the Sports Connection expansion will bring more parking to the area, which is something that part of the city needs," Fulton said. "But we were also aware that there were traffic impacts that had to be mitigated."
Residents in the Sherman area, just south of Santa Monica Boulevard, have been frustrated in recent years by repeated unsuccessful attempts to win approval for permit parking.
They have complained that patrons of the Sports Connection and other nearby shops have clogged their streets when parking becomes unavailable on Santa Monica Boulevard.
After Monday's meeting, Fulton said that the commission's decision to require free parking at the club until permit parking is achieved may force the issue to be decided quickly by the City Council.
The council is expected to look into permit parking for the area at its next meeting.
However, Arlen Andelson, an attorney who is representing the Talla Development Company, developers of the Sports Connection project, said that the firm will not begin construction on the garage and the rest of the development until permit parking has been approved.
Prepared to Wait
"The company has made the decision not to provide free parking," Andelson said. "If that means waiting, they'll wait. If they provided free parking for another year, it would cost them $600,000."
Andelson, who also is representing the owners of the Tropicana project, said that neighbors' fears that their community will be drastically altered are highly exaggerated.
"These are not mammoth developments like Dart Square or the Beverly Center (on West Hollywood's southwestern edge)," he said. "The hue and cry is not in proportion to the scale of development."
Referring to a draft of a city-sponsored environmental impact report which states that 60,000 cars pass through the Santa Monica-La Cienega intersection each day, Andelson said that the Sports Connection would add only 500 more trips and the Tropicana another 1,400 trips every day.
"This is not the kind of impact you'd get from really huge developments," Andelson said. "This is, at best, a modest increase in traffic."
Despite his contentions, the commissioners' expectation that the Sports Connection expansion will bring added traffic spurred them to levy a $75,000 traffic mitigation fee on the athletic club.
The money will go into a city fund which will be used to help alleviate West Hollywood's traffic problems.
The city also may eventually benefit from an agreement signed with Talla which would give the City Council the option of building a fourth floor on the Sports Connection garage.
The fourth floor, which would be paid for by the city, could be used as a parking lot for city employees or might even be used as a public lot to alleviate the parking shortage in the area.
Fulton said that such a fourth-floor lot could provide as many as 100 spaces.
He said the city will have 30 days to come to an agreement with Talla, and if an agreement is near by the end of that period, the two parties could extend the bargaining period by another 30 days in order to come to terms.