As a 2-year-old proposal to build a luxury senior residential complex in West Hollywood nears the end of the public hearing gantlet, about the only thing opponents in the fight agree on is that the city needs more senior housing.
The proposed six-story, 152-unit Rossmoor Regency senior care residence on the Beverly Hills border would violate city height and density restrictions for a residential neighborhood, but developers say city officials should approve the project because of the overriding value of senior housing in a city where more than one-third of the residents are over 55.
If that argument isn't quite enough, Rossmoor Enterprises Inc. of Laguna Hills, which developed the sprawling Leisure World senior retirement communities in Orange County, is also dangling a $1-million donation to city housing coffers to help with low-income housing, if the project is approved.
Neighbors of the proposed site on Doheny Drive between Harland and Keith avenues, including many seniors, have in recent months disrupted what had been smooth sailing for the proposal, complaining that the facility is too big. They say Rossmoor would loom 50 feet over the single-family homes in the area, obscuring skylines, casting shadows and causing traffic to be clogged with delivery trucks.
Opponents also say the estimated $2,000 to $3,000 a month it would cost to live at the complex would keep most West Hollywood seniors from living there. The $1-million gift from the developer, they say, is an enticement for betrayal.
"I hope the (city) is not willing to sell the (area) for 30 pieces of silver," E. (Budd) Kops, community activist and resident of the area, told the West Hollywood Planning Commission last week. "I know if you dangle ($)1 million in front of some members of the City Council, they'll bite."
More than 60 West Hollywood residents stood in opposition to the Rossmoor plan before the commission last week. The proposal had experienced little opposition until neighbors began organizing about a year ago. Rossmoor tried to alleviate fears of neighbors with guarantees that the building would have traffic-reducing shuttles, adequate parking and widened streets to accommodate delivery trucks.
But Rossmoor spokesman Jeffrey A. Seymour said the height of the project is not negotiable.
"You would make the allowance for greater height and density because of the significant contributions to quality of life in West Hollywood," Seymour said.
Under the city's General Plan, height and density restrictions can be lifted if a project is shown to be beneficial to the community as a whole. Rossmoor has argued that the Regency project would benefit local seniors, and hence, all of West Hollywood.
The neighboring city of Beverly Hills, which would also feel increased traffic and catch shadows from the Regency, sent members of its Planning Department to express support for the plan--as long as the design of the building is altered so that the outside portions of the blocklong building would rise to only three stories, with the center rising--in pyramid fashion--to six stories.
The Planning Commission eventually sided with concerned neighbors when it tentatively approved a chopped-off version of Rossmoor that could not exceed 45 feet in height, which is less than four stories. The panel was on the verge of shooting down the whole project, but fear that the City Council would reverse that action led it into the compromise.
"I believe the City Council has abandoned neighborhood preservation, and I think they are going to do it again here," said Planning Commissioner Stephen Smith.
In West Hollywood and most other cities, city councils have the final say on development projects and may overrule commission decisions if an appeal is brought by the developer.
Smith later said the city had "meekly caved in to big development at the expense of neighborhood sanctity" in several recent debates. He said he was referring to recent City Council action allowing expansion at the Writers Guild of America West Inc. headquarters off Beverly Boulevard after the planning commission had rejected the plans. He also cited the city's agreements with "bellicose" Severyn Ashkenazy, in which the hotelier was allowed to convert apartment buildings to hotels under certain conditions in exchange for payments of fees and back taxes to the city.
'Cash Register Mentality'
"More and more there is a cash register mentality in this city," Smith said.
City Councilman John Heilman, whom Smith singled out for criticism, said those planning decisions were based on "the long-range view of the council" but acknowledged that the potential $1-million windfall from Rossmoor Regency is the life preserver keeping the project afloat.