At the monthly meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee on Tuesday, December 22, there were more than 10 discussion items on the agenda, but the vast majority of the meeting was devoted to the building renovation project at 410 N. Rossmore, in which a 4-story, 78-unit, 1930s apartment building, containing mostly rent-controlled studio and one-bedroom units, will be renovated and expanded into a 10-story building housing 225 residents in a mixture of studio, one-bedroom, and co-living units (with 4-5 individually-rented bedrooms are arranged around a common kitchen and living room).
As the Buzz has previously reported, the project is being developed by Domos Coliving, which bought the building early this year, and Lorcan O-Herlihy Architects, which released its first renderings of the project in October.
Domos representatives Daniel Alexander and Richard Loring first presented the project to the GWNC Land Use Committee in February, and a number of the building’s residents also attended that meeting, to protest the project. There were no illustrations of the project at that time, however, and other details were also still being worked out, so Loring and Alexander returned to the committee this month to present their new renderings and updated information about the renovation.
According to Loring, Domos has set four goals for the project:
1. To increase the number of “attainable” housing units in the area. Loring said that after construction is completed, the building will be marketed to young adults in their mid-20s to early 30s, who make about $68-70,000 per year. Rents will start at about $1,700/mo. (depending on market rates at that time), or about 15-20% less than other studio and one-bedroom units in the neighborhood. There will also be an approximately $300 monthly amenity fee, covering furniture in the co-living spaces, cleaning service, utilities, internet service, a gym, pool, co-working spaces, garden plots, and more.
2. To provide “best in class” architecture and a commitment to sustainability. Loring said re-using the existing building is much “greener” than tearing it down and starting from scratch, but the new construction will be carefully integrated with the old structure, and all four sides of the structure will be “fully articulated,” with no blank walls. There will also be a full seismic retrofit, fire safety upgrades, new elevators, and new ADA-standard accessibility improvements.
3. To be “senstive and transparent” to the building’s current residents, many of whom have lived in their rent-controlled units for decades. Because the renovations will be so extensive, and floor plans changed completely, Loring said all residents will need to move out during construction, but Domos has offered them a choice between a buyout for permanent relocation (with cash deals averaging about $51,000 per tenant, which Loring said is about “two and a half times the average” in City Council District 4), or temporary relocation, with the opportunity to return to a similar unit in the new building after construction is finished. (In other words, current one-bedroom tenants could return to a new one-bedroom unit; studio tenants could return to a new studio unit, at their current rents, with a 5% rent increase in the first year, and another 5% increase the year after that.) Loring said Domos also offered current tenants affected by the pandemic a three-month rent forgiveness program from April-June of this year, and has not pressured tenants who have fallen behind on rent in recent months to pay or set schedules for payment of late rent. Loring said that tenants have also received free parking since June, and the building is being cleaned “top to bottom” seven days a week.
4. To be guided by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards for historic rehabilitation. Although the project will double the number of stories in the building, Loring said, there will be clear delineation between the old and new parts of the building, with the new upper stories set back from the original stories at the bottom of the structure, so they don’t overwhelm the original mass. But both sections will retain a similar “verticality” in design, and the new portion of the building will be built using materials similar to the orginal construction.
As for further details, Loring said the project is completely by right, and can be built with no variances or other exceptions to city rules. Also, the building will contain 70% more open space than the city requires, and the Floor Area Ration (FAR) will be just 65% of what is allowed by the city. There will also be 121 parking stalls (using lifts in the existing garage to double its capacity), which meets city requirements when bike parking is included, as it will be.
According to Loring, the reconfigured building will have 11 studio units, 38 one-bedroom units, 5 two-bedroom units, 2 four-bedroom units (which may or may not be co-living units), and 31 five-bedroom coliving units. So the traditional units will outnumber the coliving units…but because of the room count in the coliving units, there will be more residents housed in those units than in the traditional units. Finally, some of the coliving rooms will have private baths, and some will have shared baths (those with shared baths will rent for about $100 less per month). The current building has 78 units (which would hold around the same number of residents if fully occupied), and the new building will house 225 people.
Loring also reported that among the building’s current tenants, the “overwhelming majority” have elected to take the relocation buyout offered by Domos, while 16-17 have expressed a desire to return when the building is done, and are now working with Domos to choose units in the reconfigured building. This, said Loring, is a “radically different situation” than the Land Use Committee heard about in February, when a large number of residents attended that meeting to express anger and opposition to Domos’ plans for their building.
While Loring recounted Domos efforts to engage and communicate with tenants, however, and shared newsletters and other communications Domos has sent to tenants (see the “newsletter” files here), the public sentiment at this meeting was similar to that February, with 15 members of the public speaking up in opposition to the project, and none in favor of it. One difference, however, was that at this meeting, unlike the February session, only three of the opposition speakers were building residents (no tenants who have accepted Domos’ settlement packages attended), and 12 were members of the larger community. The ratio was largely reversed at the February meeting.
Among the three residents who spoke this month, all spoke emotionally about the loss of their longtime homes, and noted that city rules state that whenever tenants are relocated for a major renovation, they must be given a choice to return to their original units…which Loring said said won’t be possible in this case, because of the extent of the building’s planned reconfiguration.
Two of the tenants, Cinzia Zanetti and a woman identified only as “Anne,” also objected to the timing of this presentation – right before Christmas when many people are distracted and don’t hear about or can’t attend a public meeting. They said this is characteristic of Domos’ poor outreach efforts, with Anne noting that her very first contact from Domos was a phone call on Christmas Eve last year, telling her she was going to have to leave her home.
Among the other community residents who spoke at this week’s meeting, architects Sarita Singh and Chris Shanley, who live just behind the building on Arden Blvd., expressed concerns that the new, taller building would loom over neighbors’ yards, reducing light, privacy, and property values. Shanley also noted, from his professional perspective, that because of 410 Rossmore’s current configuration, the developers will face a “Hurculean effort” in construction, with limited access to the building site, and a narrow, already crowded street in front. Shanley said he doesn’t oppose the building’s reimaging, but does oppose the amount of construction and added density it will bring. He requested that Domos bring its architects to the next GWNC meeting, to address some of the structural isues and to present a construction management plan that will address how they will limit impacts from the process for the rest of the neighborhood.
Construction impacts were also mentioned by several other Rossmore Ave. residents, along with opposition to the idea of replacing 78 longtime rent-stabilized units (where the average rent is now $1,350 per month) with “luxury” units at higher rents, which will displace most of the current tenants and be marketed to younger, likely less permanent residents with higher incomes.
And finally among the opposition voices, several people also questioned the wisdom of undergoing this whole process, including tenant displacement and the addition of new communal living spaces, as a generally bad idea during a global pandemic, when people’s livlihoods are less stable, and safety requires more separation of individuals as opposed to more intimate gatherings.
(Note: Loring did not address any of the tenant or community complaints at the meeting, but he did tell the Buzz a few days before the meeting, regarding the state of communications between Domos and the building’s tenants, that “the idea that there has been some reticence on my part or the part of the community is ridiculous.” Also, he said, the number of residents still opposing Domos’ financial settlements is in the “low single digits,” and “we’re running a process and project here that is exemplary in almost every degree possible.”)
In the end on Tuesday, because there is no specific time pressure (Loring said the project won’t be submitted to the city plan check process until March, and construction isn’t planned to start until June or July), the Committee did not take any votes on the project. Committee chair Philip Farha said the group will revisit the discussion at a future meeting, to which they should invite people who can address the structural issues, as well as a field deputy from newly installed City Council Member Nithya Raman’s office.
While the 410 Rossmore discussion consumed the bulk of the LUC’s meeting time on Tuesday, there were a number of other agenda items, most of which were dispatched fairly quickly. These included:
222 N. Manhattan Place – This application for a 4-story, 16-unit apartment building, built under Density Bonus rules with two units reserved for Extremely Low Income tenants, was also agendized at the October LUC meeting. But project representatives did not respond to invitations to attend either meeting, and the committee – as is its policy in that circumstance – voted unanimously to oppose the project.
932 S. Garmercy Dr., 832 N. June St., 151 S. Citrus Ave., 450 S. Manhattan Pl., and 816 N. Manhattan Pl. – Each of these applications was for a pre-demolition inspection. No representatives from any of the projects attended the meeting. The committee is already on record opposing the application at 932 S. Gramercy, so no votes were taken on that one, but committee members voted unanimously to oppose the applications for the four other addreses.
506 N. Sycamore Ave. – This application for a Revised Tenative Tract Map also had no one representing it at the meeting, so again – according to committee policy – the committee voted unanimously to oppose the application.
Finally, the committee considered a few other issues that were not specifically tied to a particular project or address:
Guidelines for Applications/Developers – The committee heard a request from GWNC Transportation Committee chair Conrad Starr to add questions about specific traffic-related issues – such as entrance/exit/loading pattens, ride-share pickup/dropoff zones, etc. – to the list of information the Land Use Committee requests from developers before a presentation. Land Use Secretary Cathy Roberts reported that the GWNC Sustainability Committee has some similar requests (for information related to energy use and other sustainability issues in new building projects), so Farha agreed that Roberts should canvass GWNC and LUC members for people who might be interested in serving on an ad hoc committee to review the LUC developer requests and possibly add these new items.
Melrose Avenue Pedestrian Improvement Project – Farha reported on the initial community meeting, held on Monday, December 14, for this grant-funded project, which will provide improvements to transit-adjacent pedestrian areas on Melrose Ave., between Highland and Fairfax Avenues. The improvements will include street trees, bus stop lighting and new signage. Farha said more information can be found at http://streetsla.lacity.org/melrose, and there will be futher community meetings and input opportunities over the next few months. (Previous Buzz coverage of the project is available here.)
SB 9 and SB 10 – SB 9 and SB 10 are two bills introduced this month in the California State Senate as successors to SB 1120, SB 50 and other recent housing production bills that failed to pass in recent legislative sessions. Roberts and Farha introduced the issue, but Farha, in particular, said he thinks more information is needed before he can recommend a committee vote for a recommendation to the GWNC board. It was generally agreed to reagendize the disucssion for a future meeting, and to invite a representative from CD5, which recently wrote a letter opposing the bills, to address the committee at a future meeting.
The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held on Tuesday January 26, at 6:30 p.m., via Zoom. The next meeting of the GWNC Board will be held on Wednesday, January 13, at 7 p.m., also via Zoom.
[This story was updated after its initial publication to clarify resident comments about returning to their original units after construction.]
Elizabeth, thank you for your continuing interest in our project. I also want to thank you for your ongoing work to understand all facets of our project and your willingness to look at the process from a variety of viewpoints.
I’ll be reviewing the comments made by both residents and neighbors who attended the GWNC meeting and will be providing a written response to those comments for your information and review.
In case I don’t get the chance, I’m wishing you a healthy and restful holiday and of course, A Happy New Year.