At its first monthly meeting since new board members were seated after the recent Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council elections, the GWNC Land Use Committee spent a fair bit of time hearing from potential new committee members, discussing which current members might or might not want to continue on the committee, the optimal size of the committee, and how many board members are allowed to join without running afoul of quorum regulations.
But those discussions, while rather lengthy, were still fairly exploratory, and concluded with committee secretary Cathy Roberts suggesting that the group submit a slate of interested parties (both current committee members and potential new members) to the full board for ratification.
In other, more concrete, business, the committee heard from developers working on three new projects – a new 19-unit apartment building at 930 S. Mansfield Ave., a new 22-unit apartment building at 505-509 N. St. Andrews Pl., and a new creative office/commercial building at the corner of W. Melrose Ave. and N. Seward St.
930 S. Mansfield Ave.
The owners of this property originally filed an application with the city to build a new 6-story, 19-unit apartment building, using the city’s Transit Oriented Communities guidelines, at this address back in 2018. But the developer demolished the 1920s four-plex that previously occupied the property without the required historic review process, so the project was put on hold by the city until the applicant could provide the required review. It was never received, however, so the city terminated the application in February, 2020.
Recently, however, the developers applied for a number of new construction permits, and when neighbors were notified excavation and construction would begin soon at the property, they asked the GWNC to look into the current status of the project.
At last night’s meeting, newly engaged architect Chris Pak, from the Archeon Group, acknowledged that after complaints from neighbors about the size and other details of the originally-planned building (on a block where all the other properties are just two stories tall), the developers have scaled back a bit and are now planning a 4-story, 19-unit building, with 2 Extremely Low Income units and one level of subterranean parking. Pak said the building will still be built under the city’s TOC guidelines, but because this version does not use any of the program’s special incentives (construction bonuses such as additional height or reductions in building setbacks), it does not require a new application for discretionary review through the Planning Department, is entirely by right, and can be built with only an administrative sign-off on the construction permits.
Pak did not provide renderings of the currently planned building, however, or any other more formal presentation of the project’s details, so committee chair Philip Farha invited the developers to return to a future meeting with more information, and – according to its policy in such situations – the committee voted to recommend that the GWNC Board oppose the project until the developers return for that more detailed presentation and further discussion.
505-509 N. St. Andrews Pl.
This application, presented by architect Dovid Feld and owner Vladimir Beron, is for a new 22-unit, 4-story apartment building, to be built under TOC guidelines, with one parking space per unit and reduced setbacks. In general, committee members’ reactions to the project were largely favorable, with several praising the overall look, the building’s articulation, and the developers’ inclusion of relatively large units (2- and 3-bedroom apartments that are suitable for families).
Bindhu Varghese, who lives across the street from the location (she is also GWNC board member who represents the neighborhood, but was speaking as a neighbor and not as a GWNC representative), did express concerns about having the building’s driveway on St. Andrews Place, which is much narrower and more congested than Maplewood Ave., on the other side of the building. But Beron explained that although he and the architects, too, would have preferred to put the driveway on Maplewood (and did so in an earlier design), the city required them to re-orient the front of the building, including the vehicle entrance, to St. Andrews Pl.
Several committee members and stakeholders also raised concerns about the bright white color of the proposed smooth-stucco finish and the specification of transparent materials for the balcony barriers, which they said look quite elegant in architectural renderings, but in reality provide both too much visibility for the many things people tend to store on their balconies, and too little privacy for people who like to sit there.
In the end, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the project as presented, with further consideration contingent on changes to the building’s bright white color and the balcony materials, which the developers said they would consider.
6101-6117 W. Melrose Ave. and 713-735 N. Seward St.
This application is for a new 5-story, 67,889 square foot commercial/retail and creative office building on Melrose Ave., between the John C. Fremont Library to the west, and Seward St. on the east. The location is also at the intersection of several kinds of developed areas, including industrial and creative commercial uses to the east along Seward and Melrose, a large multi-family residential area to the north, with great variation in building styles, and a lower-density, more historic residential area to the west, on the other side of the also historic Fremont Library. The building site is currently occupied by a small strip of older commercial storefronts, including the Big Sunday non-profit office, and the old Xiomara restaurant.
The new building presented by the developers is designed in a “refined industrial” style, which the presenters said orients well with the area along the Seward side of the location. The building itself is unusually massed, and includes a number of deck spaces as part of a “post-COVID” aesthetic that would help to bring light and air into the building’s interior spaces, as well as allow office workers space to move around outdoors on various levels.
Discussion on this one was decidedly mixed, however, with some committee members praising the overall look and creative dynamic of the building, and agreeing it would fit in well with other developments in the more industrial/creative area it would be oriented to along Seward St.
Other speakers, however, including at least a couple of neighborhood residents, noted that it would also be the tallest building in the area, and said they are worried, especially, about how it could overshadow the historic library to its west, as well as the smaller residences in that direction.
When asked whether the developers have done any neighborhood outreach yet, project representative Ann D’Amato said they have reached out to the South Hollywood (SoHo) Neighborhood Association, the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association, and the GWNC, and that as soon as everyone on their publicity team has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, they plan to resume their pre-pandemic practice of going door to door in the neighborhood to seek further input.
Farha reminded the developers that it’s the committee’s job to listen to neighbors before making any recommendations, and suggested that the developers do more outreach among the June St. neighbors, and also with the Hancock Park Homeowners Association, which represents the neighborhood south of Melrose. He invited the team to return for further discussion at that point. There were no votes taken or official recommendations made.
Finally last night, the committee also voted to recommend that the GWNC board oppose, because no representatives came to discuss details, applications for pre-demolition inspections at 432 N. Irving Blvd. and 933 S. Gramercy Pl.
And a committee was formed to plan a GWNC Town Hall meeting for local stakeholders, to explain the city’s Transit Oriented Communities program and how it is used by developers to shape new construction projects.
The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held, via Zoom, on Tuesday, May 25, at 6:30 p.m.
The next meeting of the GWNC Board will be held, also via Zoom, on Wednesday, May 12, at 7:00 p.m.
All meetings are open to the public.