The West Hollywood Planning Commission voted this week to allow construction of a 178-room motel and apartment and retail store development on Santa Monica Boulevard despite lingering objections from residents in the area.
The $20-million motel development, which was proposed more than three years ago and then delayed by the city's incorporation and early efforts to develop a temporary zoning law, is the first major project to be overseen by the commission. The motel would replace the 75-room Tropicana Motel at Santa Monica and Westmount Drive.
Disappointed by the commission's 6-2 approving vote Monday night, neighbors vowed to appeal the decision to the City Council. Leaders of neighborhood groups also said they will press for toughened residential zoning in the Santa Monica Boulevard area, which has come under intense development pressure in recent years.
"It seems that everything that comes forth from the commission encourages this large-scale kind of development," said Walter Schlosser, president of the West Knoll Triangle Residents Assn.
The residents have 10 days to file an appeal with the city clerk's office. Schlosser said that once the appeal is filed, neighbors will begin lobbying council members to overturn the commission's decision. "It's the only place we can turn," he said.
Ironically, the developers of the project said they, too, might file an appeal. Although developer Yehuda Naftali and his representative, attorney Arlen Andelson, said they were pleased that the motel project had been approved, they said they were angry that their project had drawn so much fire from neighbors and numerous revisions and conditions from the commission.
"Some of these are not minor changes," Andelson said. "It's nit-picking, but it's nit-picking that costs us a hundred-thousand dollars here and a hundred-thousand dollars there."
Both Andelson and Naftali suggested that their experience with the neighbors and commission might turn away other developers who hope to build larger projects in West Hollywood.
"For sure, a lot of developers will be turned off by the process," Naftali said. Added Andelson: "This is not what the City Council had in mind when they passed their interim zoning ordinance. Developers don't mind listening to valid criticism. But a certain amount of fanaticism showed up in some of the comments we've been getting (from neighbors)."
In its final session, the commission imposed levies of $67,669 for the city's open space and park fund and an identical figure for a parking and transit fund and a $180,110 traffic mitigation fee.
The commission also added several new conditions to approval for the motel, including a controversial provision allowing neighbors to meet with the city's planning staff to informally review motel issues that will need to be resolved in coming months.
"It's about the only positive step we saw tonight," Schlosser said.
But Andelson and Naftali said the neighborhood review condition was too much. "This is the kind of thing that makes us think about an appeal," Andelson said.
During the hearing, commission members agreed with some of the neighbors' concerns, but when the final vote came only commissioners Peter McAlear and Abbe Land opposed the development.
At one point during the hearing, McAlear suggested a plan under which the motel project would have had to further reduce its apartment complex, which has already been diminished from 42 units to 30. McAlear said neighbors would find his suggestion more palatable because it would reduce the scale of the project and eliminate the need for two driveways on Westmount Drive, a narrow street already clogged by traffic and heavy parking.
But none of the other commissioners backed McAlear's alternative. "This city's policy is to try to create more units of affordable housing," said commissioner Bernard (Bud) Siegel.
Another alternative was floated by the West Knoll Triangle Residents Assn., which asked commissioners to eliminate several stores and restaurants from the project. But several commissioners noted that the City Council, in passing an interim zoning ordinance last year, also wanted to encourage more retail development on commercial streets such as Santa Monica Boulevard.
"If we follow the spirit of the interim zoning ordinance, it seems to me we should be encouraging retail uses," Siegel said.
At one point, Land hinted that the commission might hold off a decision until the City Council gives final approval to the city's general plan, which is being revised. "There might be projects with impacts so severe that it might be more advisable to wait for the general plan," she said.
But like McAlear, Land found no support from fellow commissioners.