At last night’s monthly meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee, the group received presentations on new landscape and lighting improvements for the medians along Highland Ave. between Melrose and Fountain…and information about three new duplexes being planned (by the same developer) on N. Orange Dr. and N. Cherokee Ave. in the Melrose area.
Dianna Eisenberg, representing the Hollywood Media District Business Improvement District, which is coordinating the “Gateway to Hollywood” median improvement project, explained that the medians were re-planted a few years ago, but those plants did not survive. Over the last few months, though, Eisenberg said the BID has invested $60,000 in re-landscaping the medians, along with other repairs and new irrigation and solar panels. The project also includes refurbished trash receptacles and a 1-year maintenance contract, to make sure everything is properly cared for this time around.
Eisenberg said the next step in the project will be installing decorative up and down lights for the strips’ iconic palm trees. New power sources for the lights will also allow the addition of seasonal/holiday light displays, if desired, and will be placed high above the street, to help prevent tampering. The lighting project will start with four trees, Eisenberg said, and then expand to others as funding is raised. (City Council District 4 has already chipped in $14.5K, according to Eisenberg.)
After the lighting is finished, Eisenberg said the BID hopes to also add signage and public art installations to the medians, to finish the project.
Land Use Committee members reacted quite favorably to the presentation, with chair Philip Farha, who lives in the area, noting that the corner at Highland and Fountain tends to be particularly dark at night, and this project should help with safety as well as aesthetic improvements. Farha also noted, however, that there does tend to be a lot of trash accumulating toward the Melrose end of the medians, which is not attractive…but Eisenberg said the BID has a cleaning team she can send that way as needed. Also, she reported, there is a service request form on the BID website, where stakeholders are welcome to submit specific cleaning and maintenance requests for the area whenever something is needed.
Committee members urged the BID to do some outreach about the project to residential neighbors in the area, in addition to the many businesses they have already contacted, but also voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board support the median beautification project.
Duplexes Planned for 813-815 N. Orange Dr., 848-850 N. Orange Dr., and 813 N. Cherokee Ave.
Representatives of Thomas James Homes, a developer that does both custom homes for individuals and semi-custom homes on lots the company itself re-develops*, provided information on three new projects in the latter category that they are planning in the Melrose area.
The first of these projects, slated for 813-815 N. Orange Dr., would replace a current smaller, older, Spanish-style duplex with a larger, more modern-style two-unit condominium, as shown here:
Discussion of the project was quite lengthy, and focused largely on the developers’ plan to remove the large sycamore tree (one of many lining the block) in front of the house. Committee members were adamantly against the removal of the mature, healthy tree, which is part of a deliberate planting pattern in the neighborhood, as well as a key element of the block’s overall appeal and value to residents. But developer representative Ted Dolan said the tree lies in the middle of what would be the new driveway for the property, and it would be difficult to re-design around it.
In addition to the tree issue, several committee members also expressed dissatisfaction with the new building’s rather stark design, which, in response to Farha’s question about whether it is a unique custom design or one the company offers as a stock choice to buyers, Dolan said is “one of a kind, but not unique.”
Later, in public comment on the issue, neighborhood resident Sherrie Gasche echoed the committee members’ concerns, saying she finds the design “grotesque,” “ugly,” and “cold,” as well as reminiscent of “Soviet bloc” housing, and not something that fits in with the character of the rest of the neighborhood (which is currently a mix of original older homes and other newer additions).
In the end, the committee voted overwhelmingly (with just one abstention) to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the project as currently presented, and Dolan – saying he shares the committee’s concern about the tree – said he would be happy to come back for further discussion of that issue.
Next, the committee looked at a very similar project planned by the same company for 848-850 N. Orange Dr., just up the street from the one previously discussed. This one, according to the Thomas James representatives, would also replace an older small duplex with a larger new one, but this one would have a more traditional Spanish style than the previous project, as shown below:
The discussion of this project also focused first and foremost on trees, as there are currently two mature and healthy sycamores in front of this property. Dolan said the driveway for this project is currently slated to cut between the two trees, and though he would like to be able to preserve the trees, he can’t yet guarantee it, because he needs to provide driveway access, with turnaround space, to park four cars in the building’s two front-facing garages.
Committee members once again indicated that preserving the trees would be critical to their support of the project, even though many agreed that the basic design of this project was more compatible with the overall look and feel of the block than that of the previous project.
The committee once again voted by a margin of 12 in favor and one abstention to oppose the project as currently presented, and Dolan once again said he would be happy to come back to discuss the tree issue further.
The third and final of the Thomas James projects reviewed last night was for another duplex to replace an older single family home at 813 N. Cherokee Ave.:
Dolan didn’t have detailed renderings of this one ready to show at last night’s meeting, but said the design and floorplan will be much the same as the ones for the 813-815 N. Orange Dr. project discussed earlier.
The tree-replacement issue was raised with this property as well, but most committee members felt that the two palm trees fronting this site are not as valuable as the sycamores at the other two sites, since they are not native to the area, and they do not contribute to the street’s shade canopy as the others do.
As with the previous property, the building’s ultra-modern design was brought up again here, too, with several committee members pointing out that most residents of areas with older and historic buildings tend to choose their neighborhoods because they like the historic look and feel…which projects like this can disrupt or even destroy. Committee member Rory Cunningham, adding his voice to that chorus, suggested that developers would win a lot more favor from community members if they could build new houses that contain at least some elements of the current styles on the block, and which do not contrast so strongly in style or scale with the homes that are being removed.
As with the other projects, the committee voted strongly in favor – by a margin of 8 votes in favor and three abstentions – of recommending that the GWNC board oppose this project as currently presented. Both committee members and chair Farha did thank the developers for coming to the meeting and engaging in the discussions, however – especially since the three projects are by right and do not need GWNC approval to proceed. And Dolan said he, too, found the exchanges useful, and was already thinking about how the committee’s comments could influence future designs.
The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held on Tuesday, November 23, at 6:30 p.m.
The next meeting of the GWNC Board will be held on Wednesday, November 10, also at 6:30 p.m.
Both meetings will likely still be held via Zoom.
*From the Thomas James Homes website: “If your home search has left you deciding between an outdated house in a neighborhood you love, or a new build in a community that lacks charm and amenities, Build on Our Homesite is for you. We scour the market identifying homesites in the region’s most in-demand neighborhoods to build custom-quality homes suited for the way we live today.”
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
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One thought on “GWNC Land Use Committee Looks at Highland Medians and Three Duplex Projects in the Melrose Area”
I salute the committee for focusing on the mature, large public parkway trees that belong to all of us and provide essential benefits. Western Sycamore is one of the few species protected by LA ordinance.
The public can find out about notices of public tree removals here and how to object — good for citizens to monitor this periodically —