Creative office and retail building planned for 6101-6117 W. Melrose Ave. & 713-735 N. Seward St., which won approval from the City Planning Commission last week. (Photo shows the Seward St. side of the building.)
At its July 28 meeting, the City Planning Commission gave its unanimous approval to a new 5-story office and retail building planned for 6101-6117 W. Melrose Ave. & 713-735 N. Seward St. (the NW corner of Melrose and Seward), between the John C. Fremont Library to the west and Seward St. on the east. The location is at the southern end of the Hollywood Media District along Seward, adjacent to a low-density residential area to the north and west along June St., and across Melrose from the Hancock Park residential neighborhood. The site is currently occupied by a strip of 1920s commercial storefronts, including the Big Sunday non-profit office and the former Xiomara restaurant.
Representatives for the developers, Bardas Investment Group, have been discussing the project with neighbors from the Hancock Park, Larchmont Village and South Hollywood neighborhood associations for more than a year now, but while the groups have reached accords on some of the project details, the big sticking point has been the building’s height, which the neighbors say they would like to limit to the three stories allowed under current zoning (with the building’s square footage spread out over a wider footprint on the site to compensate for the lower height). The developers, however, have remained just as firmly committed to their plan for a 5-story building and their requests for zoning and height district changes that would allow the taller, narrower project.
Current plans call for the five-story (77-foot-tall) building, with 6,7242 square feet of office space and 647 square feet of ground-floor retail space. Two smaller buildings currently occupying the northern portion of the development site would remain as a buffer between the new building and its neighbors to the north…and the current surface parking lot in the middle of the site would be replaced with two levels of subterranean parking in the new building, serving all three buildings.
The new building would also be stepped back along the June St. side, creating three outdoor deck spaces on the third, fourth, and fifth floors.
All vehicle traffic entrances and exits would be along Seward Ave., so architect Jerry Neuman, presenting the project to the Planning Commission, said it will be “seamless to the community” and will not affect either the historic library next door nor the adjacent residential area along June St.
The impasse between neighbors and developers over the project’s height continued during public comments at the Planning Commission hearing. Out of 32 people who spoke up about the project, only nine, all of whom identified themselves as commercial property owners, owners of Hollywood production facilities, or business groups, spoke in enthusiastic support of the project. They cited the need for more creative office space in the area, the need to keep entertainment industry jobs in Los Angeles, and the importance of locating jobs near residential neighborhoods to minimize commutes.
Another 21 people, however, identifying themselves as residents of the adjacent neighborhoods, were unanimous in their opposition to the building’s five-story height, potential traffic issues, and possible noise from the building’s open decks.
Only two residents, who said they live in the nearby neighborhoods and work in the entertainment business, said they support the project.
Among those who opposed the project, several people, including Donald Stotten, who lives directly behind the site and would be the most affected by its construction and operation, praised the general appearance of the proposed building, but suggested it could be just as attractive – and provide the same benefits of office space and jobs – in a shorter, wider configuration. “It can still be a beautiful building,” Stotten said, ” Just not at five stories.”
Meanwhile, other speakers during the public comment period noted that the developers presented no views of the project from the side along June St., where the outdoor decks would overlook an area of single-family homes. They also pointed out that entertainment industry offices are often used around the clock, so there would be the potential for late-night noise from the open decks. To mitigate any potential noise issues, they requested that the developers agree to “quiet hours” for those spaces after a certain time in the evening. (Neuman said that although he didn’t think that would be necessary, the developers would likely support such a request.)
Several speakers also expressed concerns about the project’s effects on the historic Fremont Library, especially during the new development’s construction. Some suggested that the library’s status as an official Historic Cultural Monument should require the developers to do a full Environmental Impact Report before the plans can approved by the city, and others suggested that, at the very least, vibration monitoring should be in place at all times during the new development’s construction, to make sure the library isn’t damaged.
Finally, representatives from the two city councilmembers who represent the adjacent areas, Paul Koretz and Mitch O’Farrell, agreed that the neighbors’ concerns should be acknowledged, and that more work should be done on the issues raised before the project goes to the City Council for a final approval vote.
The Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, which voted to oppose the project as currently configured, based on the neighbors’ still-unaddressed concerns, did not send a representative, but did submit a letter outlining its position.
Discussing the project after the public comments, the Commissioners pretty quickly lined up to support the project, and in some cases dismissed not only the neighbors’ concerns, but also their privileged status. Commissioner Renee Dake Wilson, for example, noted that although the site is near Hancock Park, which is protected by an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, it does actually not lie within that protected area. She said the Hancock Park residents who are opposing the project are owners of large single family homes, on large lots with a golf course nearby, all of which are allowed to exist because there are areas of larger development outside the neighborhood boundaries, and because projects like this provide jobs for nearby residents.
Commissioner Dana Perlman joined others in expressing support for the project and its design, saying he thinks the height and current setbacks are appropriate, and noting that the city needs space for jobs as well as housing, and that the Commission’s job is to look at and support all types of land use. Perlman did say, however, that he would support a condition that the developers agree not to further develop the back part of the lot, to help retain that buffer space between the current project and its neighbors.
Commissioner Karen Mack described the current state of Los Angeles as “dystopian” in many ways, and said that if we want to pull the city out of its current problems, we all need to experience some discomfort, because housing, jobs, and other issues are all related. She said she does want to support the community, but that (as the developers illustrated in their presentation) there are other taller buildings in the area. So we need to work together, she said, “to transform the way we live to get to the other side of the way we want to live,” and so that even those who don’t live well now can do so in the future.
Commissioner Jenna Hornstock said she, too, understands this is an emotional issue for neighbors, and that “change is painful.” But she, too, said this is an appropriate place to put jobs, and that people need to be able to live near their jobs to shorten commutes and the number of vehicle miles traveled each day.
In the end, Perlman moved that the commission accept the Planning Department’s recommendation to approve the project and the developers’ requests, with some mostly technical modifications and a condition that any new buildings developed in the future on the north side of the lot be limited to current code heights. The motion passed unanimously.
The CPC’s approval means the project will now advance to the City Council for further discussion and votes, starting with the Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee. (No dates have yet been scheduled.)
Speaking with the Buzz after the commission’s vote, Hancock Park Homeowners Association President Cindy Chvatal said both her group and the other local neighborhoods, which have been working together to oppose the development’s five story height, will continue their fight…and have retained legal representation to help.
“We are not saying don’t build,” Chvatal said, only that the nearby neighborhoods are united in their request that the developers stay within the limits set by the current zoning, which would allow the by-right construction of a more spread-out three story structure.
“We’ve said the same thing from the beginning,” Chvatal said, “Change the height and the decks…and we’ll work with you.”
Also, addressing the Commissioners’ point that the site doesn’t lie within the boundaries of Hancock Park, so that neighborhood’s historic character isn’t directly at risk, Chvatal said the HPHOA also has a long tradition of taking action to support its neighboring communities. “There’s a good reason that we’re involved,” she said. “Neighborhoods are working with [adjoining] neighborhoods because we’re all one community.”
[This story was updated after its initial publication to correct the planned height of the proposed building.]