It looks like the big re-development plans for the building at 410 N. Rossmore are on hold for a least a couple more months.
The last time we reported on the project, which would update and expand the building and turn it into a mixture of 54 standard and 33 new co-living units, was after the June meeting of Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee. At that meeting, Richard Loring and Daniel Alexander, representatives of the building’s owner/developer, Domos Coliving, gave an overview of the concept, while architect Lorcan O’Herlihy discussed the physical details of the extensive remodel, which would add 4 stories and more than 30 new units to the existing building, while also modernizing it and bringing it into compliance with current building codes.
At that time, the developers were still trying to work their way through the city permitting process, so there was no major news, and details were mostly as described in previous discussions. The developers simply re-presented the various project specs, and both residents and community members discussed their ongoing concerns, including displacement of the current tenants, the loss of many rent-controlled units, the relative merits and demerits of the new “co-living” concept, and neighbors’ deep concerns about traffic, parking, construction disruptions, and additional density in the area.
Since then, project has remained fairly quiet (a meeting with tenants and community members this fall also revealed no major new details), so this month we checked in with Loring again, to see if there’s any news about the permits, or any changes to proposed to the project itself. And the short answer is that there is still no new forward motion, but the permitting delays and other factors have brought the project to a slightly more formal pause, at least for the moment.
The first reason for this, according to Loring, is that city approvals are taking much, much longer than anticipated. But several other factors – including supply chain issues and “significant acceleration” in construction costs – have also added to the complications. In fact, Loring told us, these issues have created “more questions than answers” right now, so Domos is currently “monitoring what’s going on” on several fronts, and is considering a variety of options before deciding how to proceed.
Loring said while some of the permit delays have been due to the city’s general pandemic-related slowdown, the delays have been exacerbated because the project is an “outlier” in many ways — it involves both a historically-sensitive remodel and major new construction, it is not being built under the fairly clear and familiar rules of city’s Transit Oriented Communities program, and the relatively new coliving concept (several individually-leased bedrooms around a common kitchen and living room) did not exist when current building codes (and, especially current city parking requirements) were written. So it is more difficult, he said, for the city to define the rules the project should adhere to, and city officials can’t just “check the boxes” during the standard Plan Check process. For example, Loring said, in addition to the parking requirement questions, this is only the second building in the city to be updated under new standards for non-ductile concrete buildings, so “there’s going to be a lot of head scratching down at the city” as officials try to figure out the appropriate requirements.
Of course, all of these delays (whether from permitting, supply chain, or cost issues) are expensive for the developers. So even though Loring assured us that Domos and its capital partner are well financed and could simply wait out the various delays, he said they are also very actively considering alternatives right now. For example, he said, they may look for an “alternate business model,” in which they would re-configure the project – likely by abandoning the new four-story addition and/or reconfiguring the plans to eliminate the co-living units and build just standard apartments instead – which would result in fewer tenants and which could more easily meet the city’s parking requirements. (Currently, the building has 62 parking spaces, which can hold up to 68 cars with a few in tandem spaces. Many more spaces, though, would be required under current city codes for the more than 200 residents the new building would hold.)
Another potential way to solve the parking issue might be to re-apply for permits under Transit Oriented Communities guidelines, which have lower parking requirements because the buildings are close to major transit lines. But TOC projects must also reserve a certain percentage of their units for various levels of low-income tenants, which this one does not (at least so far), so that’s probably not a workable idea. (Loring noted, though, that while there aren’t any low income units in the current plans, the building would definitely contain some “affordable” units, since any tenants remaining in the building when permits are issued will be offered the right to return to the new building, after construction, at rates comparable to what they’re paying now, which are far below market rate. The difference, though, is that those units would not be income restricted, and they would not be officially reserved, as the city requires for TOC projects, for future tenants at specific low income levels.)
Finally, yet another possibility would be for the developers to apply for variances to specific regulations, such as the parking requirements. But Loring said they would prefer not to do that, since such applications tend to slow things down even further, and the public review process can ignite lengthy controversies with neighbors…so Domos would prefer to get as close to a “by right” project as possible to keep things moving.
So Loring said that for the moment, there’s “no question we’re in a wait-and-see mode” while Domos works on the various engineering, parking, and cost issues.
Meanwhile, Loring said, the building’s 15 current tenants are also in wait-and-see mode, though Domos is continuing to maintain the building to “stabilize the asset.” But he said that while those still living there do still have the option to accept buyouts and relocate (which most previous tenants have already done), there is no current pressure for people to leave, and even if/when the city’s current eviction moratorium is lifted, “we have no intention of evicting anybody.”
Loring said that if and when the building permits do finally move forward, residents will be notified well before the permits are issued, and Domos will find and rent apartments for them during construction (Domos will pay for the new apartments while the tenants continue to pay their current rents to Domos). And when construction is complete, Loring said, Domos will also pay for those tenants to move back into the new building, as required by the city’s Tenant Habitability Program. While this is mostly good news for remaining tenants, however, Loring also explained back in June that Domos will not be able to honor the tenants’ requests to return to their original units, since updating the building’s elevators, stairwells, and more, to meet current codes, will require significant floor plan reconfigurations that will eliminate the older units as currently configured, no matter what kind of units are contained in the final version of the new building.
Finally, addressing many neighbors’ previously-stated concerns about the effects of the huge construction project on already-congested Rossmore Ave., Loring said the construction contractor has created a detailed mobilization and construction plan for the job, which will affect Rossmore to some degree, but which will also do all it can to minimize that impact by keeping lane blockages, when necessary, to just a few days instead of the weeks or months often seen with other projects of the same size.
Loring noted, however, that the property is zoned R4, for large multi-family buildings, so he said the neighbors will have to accept that these kinds of projects are going to continue to be built in the area, unless people can get the city to down-zone, which isn’t likely.
For now, though, any construction is still a way off, and Loring said everything is simply on hold for at least a few more months. But Domos’ goal, he said, is to have some “clarity” on how to proceed by the second half of February. In the meantime, the developers will review two new options their architect is working on, and “nothing is off the table,” option-wise, including possibly scrapping the additional stories currently planned, abandoning the co-living concept (which is more expensive to build) for more traditionally-configured units, or even selling the building.
Loring invited us to check in with him again after the first if the year, which we will definitely do if we don’t hear back from him first.