For two years Lorraine Howell has faithfully attended West Hollywood City Council meetings, toting pink boxes filled with cookies. At each meeting, several boxes are opened for those in attendance and one is discreetly sent up to the table where council members sit.
Howell is not in the bakery business. She is a developer, and after gorging many of the city's most prominent community activists and politicians, she now wants something in return.
Howell and her partner, Arthur Lawrence, have filed plans to build a 16-story, 500-room luxury hotel and retail-store complex across the street from the Beverly Center. The $80-million project would occupy more than 590,000 square feet, filling up much of a 2.5-acre pyramid-shaped parcel of land on San Vicente Boulevard just north of Beverly Boulevard.
"This will be a high-quality hotel with neighborhood ambiance," Howell said.
The neighbors are less certain about the ambiance. Many residents who live in the stucco bungalows and low-slung apartment houses near the hotel site have feared the coming of the hotel for years. Now, with the plans finally made official, they're bracing for what is expected to be the city's most bitter development battle in recent years.
"Despite all those cookies, this project is going to have the toughest fight that a project can get," said Allen Chivens, an activist who is on the executive board of West Hollywood West, a residents group that represents the community surrounding the hotel site.
Howell and Lawrence say they have gone out of their way to accommodate residents, meeting with them repeatedly to update the plans and incorporate new designs that would reduce complaints about traffic, parking congestion and the building's size.
"I'm sure there are more things that we can talk about," Howell said. "The bottom line, of course, is that the project must remain feasible."
The plans include two ballrooms with a combined capacity for 1,400 people, office space, conference rooms, retail stores, two restaurants and cafe-style dining areas.
"The way we envision it, the hotel would serve a cross-section of business groups," Howell said.
Howell and Lawrence have filed their plans under West Hollywood's interim zoning ordinance, which requires that any projects built on parcels of more than 100,000 square feet receive a "special plan" designation. Such special plans require environmental impact reports and approval by the City Council and Planning Commission. The special plans also allow more flexibility in a building's height and density.
But according to city officials, the hotel will be reaching a crucial stage in gaining approval at the end of this summer, when the city will be completing revisions of its General Plan.
Height Limit Proposed
In a recent draft of that plan's land-use section, a city consultant proposed that any project built on the Howell-Lawrence property should be limited to 90 feet in height on the commercial side along Beverly Boulevard and scaled down to 45 feet on residential sides. The proposed Howell-Lawrence hotel would exceed 140 feet.
"There is a feeling among the city's professional planning people that a higher structure is more justifiable on the Beverly Boulevard side," said one city planning official. "On the residential side, the feeling is that the building should be more limited."
"What we're hoping for is serious, early negotiations," said William Fulton, a member of the Planning Commission. "This can't be a situation where we get serious at the end. The cards have to be on the table early."
The plans call for a central structure with four floors, including one floor of retail shops, two floors of parking spaces (a third floor for parking would be built underground) and a floor of offices and meeting rooms. Rising from this structure would be a 10-story hotel capped by a two-story penthouse.
To lessen the impact of truck deliveries on neighboring streets, Howell and Lawrence plan to build internal loading docks and a driveway through the central structure. The driveway will be called Arthur Lane, named after Lawrence.
"It's where you can drive in, drop things off and be on your way without any hassles," Lawrence said.
Howell and Lawrence said they have tailored the building's design to concerns voiced by residents. "The community has had a lot of input," Howell said. "We've taken many of their suggestions."
Many residents insist that despite meetings held in recent months with the developers, the proposed hotel is unacceptable in its present form.
"They shouldn't even think of another hotel here," said Fay Robbins, who lives a block away from the proposed hotel site.
Just two blocks away from the site, across the Los Angeles city line, the 350-room Ma Maison Hotel is under construction. And just south of the Beverly Center, also in Los Angeles, is a 200-room Holiday Inn.