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1 Sunset Blvd. Project, but 2 Visions : Development: Supporters say it will be a welcome addition to a part of the Strip that's in need of new life. Foes call it a 'behemoth' that will increase traffic.


WEST HOLLYWOOD — Take your pick: The Sunset Strip is destined to become either a busy, pedestrian delight or an overbuilt, car-choked nightmare.

Both visions stem from the same proposal--a large new complex of stores and offices at 8580 Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood that has inspired praise and fear with equal intensity. After a three-hour hearing Monday, the City Council appeared poised to give final approval to the $50-million project.

The proposed complex would be on a stretch of Sunset near Alta Loma Road that has seen little significant development in the past three decades. The developer, Raleigh Enterprises of West Los Angeles, has presented plans for a four-story complex featuring columns, arched windows, European-style open-air promenades and sidewalk dining.

Supporters of the project say it will be a classy addition to an area that's in need of some new life.

"Nothing's happened up here in a quarter of a century," other than limited renovations, said Charlie Mercer, president of the Sunset Strip Assn. "It's needed and it's long overdue."

"This should be the model of future projects," said Mayor Paul Koretz.

The first two floors of the complex would have about 70,000 square feet of stores and restaurants. The two floors above would have about 55,000 square feet of office space.

The developers see the project as a center for "high-end, boutique retailers," a Rodeo Drive without the tourists, according to Raleigh Vice President Deborah Rosenthal. It is billed as a continuation of Sunset Plaza, an older strip of upscale shops next door, and has been praised by city officials and even normally crusty activists as a forward-looking way to increase foot traffic in the area.

Raleigh, which has built many apartment buildings in the city, also owns the Playboy Enterprises building next door to the proposed site and the Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas on Alta Loma.

A group of neighbors, calling the proposed building a "behemoth" that will swallow their views, maintain that the extra traffic created by the project will also make them virtual prisoners in their homes.

"It's an area that should be protected. We want to keep that feel of a village," said William Edwards, a group spokesman.

The group, Residents Organized Against Raleigh, charges that the project's size exceeds zoning standards for the area and that approval of the complex is based on faulty calculations of its effect on traffic and pollution. Edwards said ROAR is contemplating a court challenge if the City Council gives the project final approval as planned. Final council action could come as soon as Feb. 17.

Edwards said city planning officials have given up too much to accommodate the developers. The project would sit on one of a handful of designated "incentive sites" in the city, locations in which developments are permitted to exceed normal height and density requirements in exchange for meeting certain community needs. For example, the Raleigh project, which will be allowed to exceed normal height limits by 25 feet, will include a 2,500-square-foot community meeting room and theater.

Edwards said approval of the Raleigh project could trigger a "domino effect" of overbuilding on Sunset that would worsen the already-congested traffic and send more shoppers onto side streets such as Alta Loma in search of parking. During a three-hour hearing Monday, residents of Alta Loma and the hillside neighborhoods north of Sunset said that it is already difficult for motorists to get onto Sunset from their streets and that the project would make it nearly impossible. One resident said parking made the project "a tarantula" in a pretty package.

But satisfied that the proposal meets the city's General Plan and will benefit the area, City Council members indicated that they intended to approve the project, with the condition that the developers provide adequate, validated parking in the four-level underground lot.

The council also appeared ready to drop other conditions, including a tree-lined carriage lane in front of the project, that had been imposed by the Planning Commission when it approved the complex last fall.

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