Despite a last-minute intervention by Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, the city's Planning Commission moved forward Thursday with a bold development project that could add two towering skyscrapers to the Hollywood skyline.
If the project is approved by the City Council, New-York-based developer Millennium Partners will be able to build more than 1 million square feet of apartment, office and retail space on fewer than five acres of land surrounding the iconic Capitol Records building. Architectural renderings show two slender towers, including one that would be more than twice the height of the tallest building in Hollywood, which is 22 stories.
Garcetti said the proposed towers were "out of scale with the Hollywood landscape" in a statement released during the Planning Commission hearing. He also complained that the plan does not have enough support from community members.
Garcetti, who is running for mayor, has often been on the other side of debates over development projects in his Hollywood district. A key backer of recent zoning changes that allow taller and bigger buildings near subway stops in the neighborhood, he has championed dozens of new developments, including the W Hotel project just south of the proposed Millennium project site.
Opposition from Garcetti and Councilman Tom LaBonge, who also represents part of Hollywood, was not enough to sway the Planning Commission, which voted 6 to 0 to approve the project.
Commission Vice President Regina Freer said she believes it fits with the city's emerging vision of concentrating new development near transportation hubs.
"Hollywood, as a regional center, is the place where development of this kind of density does belong," she said.
Freer led Thursday's hearing after the commission's president, William Roschen, recused himself because he has worked as a consultant on the Millenium project.
Millennium officials had been seeking a development agreement with the city that would allow it to retain its building permits for 22 years — as opposed to the normal eight — in exchange for a community benefits package that includes an agreement with building trades unions and parking discounts for local residents.
But on Thursday the developer withdrew its contract proposal after city lawyers raised concerns that the entire commission might have to cede the matter to the Board of Referred Powers, a council committee that hears commission issues when there is a risk of decisions being thrown out by a judge on conflict-of-interest grounds.
At the all-day hearing, a large group of residents who oppose the project reiterated concerns about increased traffic and air pollution while construction workers and Hollywood redevelopment boosters spoke in favor of the jobs it would bring.
The project has the strong backing of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose economic and business policy director praised the project as "transformative." It is also supported by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Maria-Elena Durazo.
The chamber and the labor federation have endorsed Wendy Greuel, Garcetti's opponent in the May 21 mayoral runoff. A spokesman for Greuel said she had not made up her mind on the project.
"In the past Wendy has stated she supports the smart growth principle of developing around transit hubs, but there is still a lot of community engagement that needs to happen and certainly that dialogue needs to continue as the project works its way to council before Wendy takes a position," Jim Dantona said.