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Plan for High-Rise Conversions Angers Beverly Hills Residents

Zoning: Officials are considering turning Wilshire offices, including the Flynt Publications tower, into apartments. Neighbors fear overcrowding.

September 25, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposal to convert high-rise office buildings into apartments is causing jaws to drop in Beverly Hills--where officials have decided to fight a housing shortage by moving families onto Wilshire Boulevard.

City planning commissioners will be asked today to rezone a 12-block stretch of the busy business street to allow the strip's largest office buildings, including the landmark Flynt Publications tower, to be turned into homes.

At the same time, officials will review the first make-over proposal: conversion of an 11-story office building at Wilshire and Stanley Drive into 37 rental units. The roof would be turned into an outdoor recreation patio for tenants and office windows would be refitted with balconies.

Beverly Hills leaders say their "adaptive reuse" plan could bring the first new apartments to their city in decades. All of the recent townhouse-style construction has been individually owned condominiums.

"There's a shortage of rental development here," Planning Director Mahdi Aluzri said Tuesday. "We have not had a rental project in 15 or 20 years. I guess the cost of land makes apartments difficult."

The redevelopment plan has angered residents of single-family home neighborhoods whose houses sit in the shadow of the buildings.

It has also stunned tenants of office buildings targeted by the city for possible future conversion.

Homeowners on Stanley Drive say they learned only last week that apartments were planned for the office building at 8601 Wilshire Blvd.

They argue that, virtually overnight, the conversion would double the population of their sycamore-shaded street.

The residents predict that neighborhood tranquillity will disappear after tenants begin using the new balconies and rooftop recreation area--where the city will allow parties until 10 p.m. They worry that curbside parking on their block will be impossible after the tenants each get the three street parking permits allowed by city rules.

"What the city is doing to us is horrendous," said Carol Ward, a retired surgical nurse who has lived in a 1920s Tudor-style home next to the high-rise for 30 years. "None of us mind the office building. It's only occupied 9 to 5, and there's no one there on weekends."

Neighbor Belis Gormiyanoglu, a 33-year resident of the street, said she feels betrayed by Beverly Hills officials. "This must have been in the works for two years. And they give us 10 days' notice. It's unbelievable," she said.

Residents have hired lawyer Robert P. Silverstein to fight the conversion proposal at today's 1:30 p.m. commission meeting at City Hall. He said the character of Wilshire Boulevard will change if three other high-rises pinpointed by the city are converted to apartments.

"Picture the Flynt building with laundry hanging and bikes and barbecues stored on the balconies," said Silverstein--who grew up near the corner of Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards, where the distinctive glass tower stands. "And the city says this will have no environmental impact."

Tenants of the 10-floor Flynt Publications building were unaware of the rezoning plan, which the city has named the "Adaptive Reuse Planned Development Overlay Zone."

"It's strange. We haven't heard a word," said Irvin Atkins, a partner of entertainer Art Linkletter, who has maintained an office in the tower at 8484 Wilshire Blvd. for 10 years. Atkins said his second-floor tenancy is on a yearly lease.

Across La Cienega Boulevard, tenants at 8500 Wilshire also were surprised that their nine-story building is being considered by the city as potential apartment space.

"You're kidding, right? This is a joke, isn't it?" asked Shirin Asgarian, whose Beverly Hills Acupuncture Center has operated on the fifth floor for 15 years.

Harry Osborne, manager of Symbolic Motor Car Co. on the first floor, was pleased to learn that ground-floor space in all of the buildings would be reserved for commercial uses under the city proposal.

"It's perfect. I'd live above my job. I'd commute to work by elevator," Osborne joked.

At the fourth building included in the zoning "overlay," tenants at 8383 Wilshire Blvd. also were puzzled.

Their 10-floor, Y-shaped structure near the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente Boulevard houses a Nibbler's restaurant and a variety of professional offices.

Robert Verduzco, an executive assistant for the Lee Solters Co. public relations firm, suggested that the corner might be too busy for residential use.

There was speculation, meantime, that economics may be more of a motivation in the conversions than the fulfillment of social needs.

Current office rents at the four buildings average about $2.50 per square foot. But city officials said new apartment units--which initially would not be covered by rent control--would probably go for about $3.50 a square foot.

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