A 178-room motel, apartment and retail store development proposed for Santa Monica Boulevard took a major step forward this week as the West Hollywood Planning Commission approved the project's environmental impact report while reducing the size of its apartment complex.
The commission's moves angered neighborhood activists who have been trying to force more restrictive concessions on the project's developers. Activists and residents, who previously said they could support the project if those concessions were granted, now say they will oppose the development.
"I feel like we have not been dealt with in good faith by this commission," said Walter Schlosser, president of the West Knoll Triangle Residents Assn., at a commission hearing Monday night. He later added, "The precedent that you set by approving this project is frightening."
The commission has still to rule on whether to grant the project's developers a conditional-use permit that would allow them to raze the dilapidated 75-room Tropicana Motel and replace it with the new $20-million motel.
But the motel project now appears to be taking final shape. Commission members appeared to reach consensus on the project's size, agreeing in principle to scale down the apartment complex from 42 units to 30 units.
The commission also is expected to impose financial levies on the developers, including a $67,669 fee for the city's open space and park enhancement fund, an identical fee for the city's parking and transit fund and a $180,110 traffic mitigation fee.
And while neighbors have objected strenuously to two commercial driveways planned for Westmount Drive, a narrow street west of the planned motel, several commissioners said they could see no other alternatives.
"I don't like any of the options that we have," said Commissioner William Fulton. "But it seems that the two driveways on Westmount are the most logical alternative we have, provided we ensure that traffic makes a left turn onto Santa Monica (Boulevard) and not back into the neighborhood."
Several commissioners also mildly criticized the project's environmental impact report, maintaining that it failed to address several of the questions raised by neighborhood activists. "I don't think the EIR adequately addressed some critical concerns, particularly the traffic situation on the side streets," said commissioner Bernard (Bud) Siegel.
But the commissioners unanimously approved the report, which concluded that the motel project did not pose a dire environmental hazard for the surrounding community.
Neighborhood activists and residents roundly criticized the report and, like Schlosser, said they now oppose the project.
"I don't want to live across from a building that looks like a jail house," said John Gould, who lives at West Knoll and Westmount drives, just north of the motel. Gould objected to what he called the motel's barracks-like design.
Schlosser said that his neighborhood group could accept the project in its present form only if the commission limited the retail space on the motel site to a single restaurant (plans call for three take-out restaurants and other stores) and force the motel's owners to provide unlimited free parking to employees, motel guests and store patrons (plans call for unlimited free parking only for employees and limited validated parking for guests and patrons).
Arlen Andelson, an attorney representing developers Yehuda Naftali and the Lake Savings & Loan Assn., said they had made all the concessions they could make. "We have scaled down the number of apartments and added all the amenities necessary," he said. "This project should not be delayed further."
In response to Schlosser's calls for a reduction of retail space, Andelson and several commissioners noted that the City Council is trying to encourage the growth of retail stores on commercial streets such as Santa Monica Boulevard.
And Andelson said the developers could not afford to give employees, guests and patrons unlimited free parking. "I do sympathize with the residents," he said. "But most of the current traffic and parking problems have nothing to do with the Tropicana."
Indeed, the City Council tonight is expected to discuss granting permit parking for the Sherman area, the neighborhood expected to be hit hardest by any new traffic and parking problems brought by the motel project. Permit parking would allow only residents with city-issued stickers to park on the street in front of their homes.
Schlosser said that regardless of whether the city approves permit parking, he expects that if the Planning Commission approves the motel project, his organization will appeal to the City Council to overturn the ruling and impose concessions supported by the neighbors.
"It looks to us like the commission is locking into the motel project," he said. "If this goes the way it looks like it's going, we'll have to hope that the City Council is more responsive."