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Condos OKd at store's old site

Beverly Hills also may approve a hotel, which would add more traffic.

April 11, 2008|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

If you hate to sit in traffic at the intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, prepare to discover your inner reserves of patience.

To the dismay of residents wary of overdevelopment, the Beverly Hills City Council has approved a high-rise condo and retail project for the eight-acre site of the defunct Robinsons-May department store.

What's more, the council is expected Tuesday to approve an ambitious $500-million proposal by the Beverly Hilton to add condos and the West Coast's first Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to the mid-century Hilton's fabled site. The two projects would be next-door neighbors at Wilshire and Santa Monica, one of the busiest intersections in the region.

Many Beverly Hills residents for years have been battling what they perceive to be uncharacteristically tall and dense development in the historically low-rise community. Construction of the Montage Beverly Hills, a large luxury resort hotel with condos, is well along in the city's Golden Triangle commercial district, and several other mixed-use projects are in the pipeline.

Mayor Barry Brucker said the 9900 Wilshire project, approved by a 4-1 vote Wednesday evening, would secure about $60 million in upfront fees for Beverly Hills -- "more than any other project in the history of the city" -- to help fund street improvements and other work. He added that the project would result in less traffic than Robinsons-May in its fading days.

The Hilton project, on the other hand, would create a great deal more traffic than the current hotel generates. Moreover, residents face the prospect of sharing the road with construction workers and their equipment for many months.

Critics of the 9900 Wilshire project contend that the city's planning commission and council needlessly rushed the approval process by holding twice-weekly meetings in recent weeks.

The frequency made it difficult for residents to participate, opponents said.

"Everybody knew they were going to approve it -- the steam-rolling train going down the track," said Ken Goldman, president of the Southwest Homeowners Assn. "I'm very sorry that both the commission and council didn't take time to catch their breath and give the community a chance to absorb what was going on."

The 9900 Wilshire project would include a small amount of retail and restaurant space and 235 ultra-luxury condo units in two buildings -- one beginning at nine stories and stepping up to 13 and the other starting at 13 stories and rising to 15.

The developer eliminated 17 units from what was originally proposed for the site, at the western gateway to Beverly Hills next to the Los Angeles Country Club.

Goldman maintained that the buildings "create a Great Wall of China of Beverly Hills, and I felt that was unfortunate regardless of how striking an architectural statement it might be." The project's designer is Richard Meier, the architect of the Getty Center.

Candy & Candy, a London-based firm known for building "super-premium" residences, bought the property a year ago for $500 million from New Pacific Realty, a Beverly Hills firm that had paid $33.5 million just three years earlier. New Pacific was planning to spend $500 million to redevelop the site with a number of environmentally innovative elements.

J.A. Mirisch, a Beverly Hills film distributor and local blogger, said the council should have gotten a better deal with the 9900 Wilshire developer. He said he hopes that homeowner groups figure out a way to fund an effort to put the two projects on the ballot. "Having a referendum . . . would be a great course of action," he said. "It would serve as a referendum on overdevelopment in general."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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