While many of us have been consumed with election-related news for the last few weeks, there have still been other things going on in our area, and it’s nice to finally have the time and space to catch up with some of them.
One item of note recently was a city council vote on October 14 to allow the big hotel and apartment project proposed for 639 S. La Brea to move forward without a full environmental review. The vote exempts the project, originally slated to contain 125 hotel rooms and 121 apartments, with 14 units reserved for Extremely Low Income tenants, from doing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which can considerably lengthen the planning process.
When we last wrote about the project, in February, it had been scheduled for a city council PLUM Committee hearing, but was officially put on hold by the city just a day or so before that event. At the time, City Council Member David Ryu said he wanted to talk with the developers about adding more affordable housing units to the project.
According to Ryu spokesperson Estevan Montemayor, those discussions did happen in the intervening months, and “in May 2020 the applicant submitted a revised application to City Planning to increase their allocation of Extremely Low Income units by nearly a third: from 14 to 18 units, and added one Moderate Income Unit at the request of the [Mid City West Community] Council.”
The vote to exempt the project from the EIR process, which Ryu supported after the additional affordable units were designated, will definitely speed up its journey through city planning approvals. But it does not clear the way completely. According to Montemayor, there is still a Zoning Administrator case pending, which must be decided before the project is fully approved. “The Zoning Administrator (ZA) is the decisionmaker on the project itself, not the City Council,” Montemayor told the Buzz. “The ZA had previously held a hearing and will release a determination in the coming weeks. That determination will determine if the project is approved or not.”
One more step along the way, however, was made on October 20, when a tract map application was approved for the site. That ruling allows “the subdivision of 12 lots into five (5) commercial condominium units, including one (1) residential condominium with 121 dwelling units, one (1) hotel condominium with 125 guest rooms, two (2) commercial retail condominiums, and one (1) parking condominium.”
But while the city moves forward, and both the Mid City West Community Council and the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council voted overwhelmingly earlier this year to support the project, there are still some strong voices of dissent.
For example, the organizations Fix the City and Unite Here have submitted lengthy objections to the city. And while the Planning Department refuted most of those objections in a report to the city council a few days prior to its vote on the EIR, the underlying issues – which include size, infrastructure impact, and conformance to exsiting zoning and land use rules – are likey to persist through the rest of the approval process.
And some local residents and merchants are still concerned, too, about traffic, loading, and parking issues, especially ingress and egress patterns, and the very narrow alley behind the project, which will have to handle most of the commercial traffic for the development.
Barbara Gallen, a Mid City West Community Council member who does not support the project, told the Buzz last week that adding four additional affordable units was not enough to win her support. “Going from 14 to 18 affordable units in a project of this vastness,” Gallen said, “…is not something to brag about. Nor does it justify disregarding the community’s well-documented concerns about impacts.”
Gallen said she is also concerned that the city has no way to verify that income-qualified people ever do occupy the designated units. And she said that potential traffic and parking issues have not been dealt with yet.
“This project portends harsh impacts for nearby residents and small businesses. For example, a large hotel with restaurants and event spaces generates a huge volume of passenger vehicle trips, on top of a high volume of large commercial trucks servicing the hotel and retail. 100% of these vehicle trips & deliveries will go through the 1-lane alley. A Budweiser truck queueing in the tiny alley for the equally tiny loading dock can’t simply move over to let another vehicle pass—let alone make way for a fire truck or ambulance. Many Detroit Street residents [who live directly behind this project will] have no other way to get to their carports, garages and homes…The operation of a luxury hotel on that site will hijack the alley to everyone else’s detriment.”
So while things have inched forward recently, the approval process is still ongoing, and both Gallen and Montemayor told the Buzz that even after initial determinations are made, they expect to see “multiple appeals” before the project is fully approved.