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Beverly Hills Voters Back Luxury Hotel Project

Redondo Beach voters seem to support a park over development. In Rosemead, two Wal-Mart foes, one backer lead council race.

March 09, 2005|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

A controversial proposal to build a $200-million resort hotel in downtown Beverly Hills won solidly in Tuesday's city election.

Measure A, which had deeply divided the electorate and provoked a blizzard of mailers and cable TV ads, received slightly more than 4,000 votes. About 3,400 residents voted against it.

"We're excited," said Alan J. Fuerstman, founder and owner of Montage Hotels & Resorts. "Beverly Hills is a great luxury hotel community, and we're thrilled to become a part of it. We look forward to creating a magnificent hotel that Beverly Hills residents and visitors would enjoy for many, many years."

But Thomas A. White, a leading opponent, said, "We still have our lawsuit that's pending in Superior Court. We as a residential community are never going to concede to commercial development overtaking the city."

Planned as a destination resort, the Montage would feature a full-service spa, signature restaurant, rooftop pool and 25 condominiums. It would be developed on a combination of privately owned parcels and what is now a city-owned parking lot just north of Wilshire Boulevard between Canon and Beverly drives. The city would commit about $32 million to help build the 1,172-space garage that would serve hotel guests and customers of nearby shops, restaurants and services.

The City Council approved the project last year. But foes, deriding it as an overly dense behemoth that would create gridlock, enlisted signature gatherers to put the issue on the ballot.

Most of the money supporting the opposition came from Probity International Corp., which also owns the 200-room, five-star Peninsula Beverly Hills. Robert Zarnegin, Probity's chief executive, said the issue was a matter of fairness. The Peninsula, which opened in 1991, complied with the city's 45-foot height limit. The Montage would be eight stories tall.

Funding for the Yes on A campaign came from Beverly Hills Luxury Hotel LLC, a partnership of Athens Group, private investors and Montage Hotels & Resorts, which would be the 214-room hotel's operator. The fledgling Montage, founded and owned by Fuerstman, operates one other property, the Montage Resort & Spa in Laguna Beach.

Another controversial development, however, appeared to be losing Tuesday night in Redondo Beach. Incomplete results showed voters favoring a plan to turn a prime 76-acre tract next to the city's marina into a park rather than allow it to be used for a large mixed-use project.

The advisory measure, Proposition J, asked voters to choose between two proposals. With 10 of 12 precincts counted and none of the absentee votes, the park proposal received 2,461 votes and the commercial project received 1,871.

Under the first scenario, the land would become Heart Park, including wetlands, walking trails, athletic fields and an amphitheater. The other plan calls for the development of Village Park, a large mixed-use project with 350 homes, a 400-room hotel, 100,000 square feet of commercial space, a 16-acre park, a lake and canals.

Another controversial project was a key issue in Tuesday's election in Rosemead. Voters there turned out to fill three City Council seats in what was widely viewed as a referendum on plans to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the community of 53,000.

Incomplete returns showed two challengers who oppose Wal-Mart, John Tran and John Nunez, leading, followed by the current mayor, Margaret Clark, who supports the project.

The plan had won unanimous City Council approval in September.

On Tuesday's ballot, three incumbents were challenged by three candidates who opposed the development, along with a write-in candidate who favored the project.

But it was unclear what impact, if any, the election results would have on the project, which has the needed permits. A lawsuit contesting the project's environmental impact report could be resolved in April.

Proponents said the retailer would bring 400 jobs, hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the city and a needed grocery store. Opponents raised specters of traffic jams and dying local businesses.

Save Our Community, a group opposed to the project, supported challengers Polly Low, John Tran and John Nunez.

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