The biggest news at last night’s monthy meeting of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee is that Le Petit Marché, the restaurant at the corner of Melrose and El Centro, which has been closed recently, will be re-opening soon.
710 El Centro – CUB Renewal for Le Petit Marché Restaurant
The re-opening announcement came from restaurant owner Mathew Cape, who was at the meeting for a hearing on an application to renew the restaurant’s liquor permit. The application is for a standard renewal, five years after the original permit was issued, with no changes in conditions, operating hours, or physical facility. When committee members asked about the restaurant’s current status, Cape said it is closed only temporarily, for a re-tooling to “bring it to the next level”…with a new, and very well known chef. Cape said the chef is “Mario Battaglia-level,” but that he’s not yet ready to announce more than that.
During the discussion of the liquor permit renewal, committee members had the most questions about the parking situation at the restaurant, which they said is well-known in the community for being awkward…to the point that it keeps people from visiting. Cape expained that the restaurant has 50 parking spaces in the development’s garage, but passageways in the structure are difficult to navigate, and the elevator from the underground parking requires an access code, so he strongly encourages customers to use the valet service. Those who don’t want to use the service are allowed to self-park, but the situation isn’t ideal. Because the building owners control the parking, however, Cape said there’s little he can do about it. Committee members urged Cape to discuss the situation with the owners, and to possibly add more signage explaining the parking to customers, but – in the end – voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board support the renewal application.
In other business last night, the committee discussed several new housing and other applications.
5212 Melrose Ave. – Boutique Hotel Project at Historic Bungalow Court
This project, which would convert an historic bungalow court into a new boutique hotel, has been through several design iterations and presentations at both the Land Use Committee and the full GWNC board. A new design and representation team took over the project earlier this year, and eventually won a recommendation of support from the Land Use Committee in April, 2019. At the May, 2019 GWNC Board meeting, however, questions about ongoing code violations at the property, and the owners’ treatment of current tenants, sparked renewed doubts about the project, and the support recommendation did not pass when it came to a vote. (No further votes were taken, however, so the GWNC Board has yet to take an official position on the project.)
At last night’s meeting, no project representatives attended, but Susan Hunter, a case worker at the Los Angeles Tenants Union, who has been working with the building’s tenants, reported on a recent Zoning Administrator hearing on the project, where she said the Zoning Administrator for the case shared neighbors’ concerns about losing full-time housing units to a hotel project. The ZA, Hunter said, “pushed hard” on the applicants to go back to the drawing board on the hotel project, and also to remedy the code violations plaguing existing tenants. Hunter said the owners did begin some repairs after the hearing, but then work stopped and she’s not sure what the current status is. She also reported that the owners have been pressuring the remaining three tenants to vacate the property, so she’s not sure how many are still there. Hunter also reported that she has submitted an application to have the property declared a Historic Cultural Monument. No votes were taken at last night’s meeting, but committee chair Philip Farha asked Hunter to keep the committee informed as things progress.
985-991 S. 3rd Ave. and 3607 W. Olympic Blvd. – 50-Unit Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Apartment Project
Project representative Laszlo Faerstain provided an update on this project, which was first presented to the GWNC back in May, 2018. At that time, the committee voted to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the project, based on inconsistent information about the number of parking spaces at the new building, and the objections of several neighbors who attended the meeting, saying they felt the building didn’t match the scale and style of the surrounding neighborhood. (The neighbors repeated those objections at the August, 2018 LUC meeting.) At last night’s meeting, Faerstain said the project is still making its way through city approvals, but that he is providing more parking spaces than required by the city, and has made some design revisions to add more trees and address neighbors’ previous concerns about the location of the building’s entry. Faerstain also said that he recently delivered fliers about the project to neighbors within a 500-foot radius of the site, but that he received no responses to the outreach. Committee members urged Faerstain to try again to reach nearby neighbors for specific feedback on the latest revisions, and to connect with other members of the wider Country Club Heights neighborhood where the property is located. No new votes were taken.
6535 Melrose Ave. – 33-Unit Mixed Use Development at Melrose and Highland
This project, which is an up-sizing of a smaller project originally permitted before the city’s new TOC incentives were adopted, was most recently reviewed by the Land Use Committee in June of this year. At the time, committee members had no technical objections to the project, but expressed disappointment in what they perceived as the building’s lackluster design (especially given its prominent location at the NE corner of Melrose and Highland). There were no new presentations about the project last night, but because there was a quorum present this time, a vote was taken, with the committee voting unanimously to oppose the project as presented in June.
517-525 1/2 N. Gramercy Place – 4-Story, 32-unit TOC Aparment Project
This project, too, was originally presented at the June, 2019 LUC meeting, which lacked a quorum…so project representative Matthew Hayden returned last night for a vote. As in June, committee members had so specific criticisms of the project (and committee member Max Kirkham praised the developers for including more bike parking than required). Both the committee and Hayden did acknowledge that some long-time community members do still have general objections to large-scale new buildings overtaking their formerly lower-scale neighborhood, but another neighbor acknowledged to the committee in a letter, referred to at the meeting, that this project is “less offesnive than others” being built in the area…and the committee members agreed, voting unimously to recommend that the GWNC board support the project.
506 N. Sycamore Ave. – 5-Unit Small-Lot-Subdivision Project
According to project representative Mark Chan, this 5-unit SLS project is currently in the early stages of design and development. The current R-1.5 zoning would allow up to four units, Chan said, but if the project goes with the five units currently proposed, a zone change would be needed (though no applications have been filed so far). Committee members strongly urged Chan to consider the architectural context of the surrounding neighborhood, which although it contains a few more modern buildings, is still largely developed with 1920s single family and duplex buildings. No votes were taken, and Chan said he will return with updates as the project progresses.
125 N. Western Ave. – CUB Application for Los Angeles Craft Eatery & Sports (LACES) Bar & Restaurant
This development, which also contains a Paris Baguette and Tom & Tom’s Coffee store, was created several years ago, and while the owners began CUB permitting at that time, the process was never completed and this 4,000 square foot space, along the western side of the development, has never been occupied. Land Use Committe members had few questions about the application (after establishing that the building owners have leased parking at a nearby bank, and that the 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. hours being requested are standard for such applicatinos), but did ask that the applicants reach out to the St. Andrews Square Neighborhood Association, which represents the area adjacent to the property on the west. Because the project has a city hearing date coming up in September, however, which gives the GWNC board little time to act on the application, the committee passed a motion to recommend that the GWNC board support the application, contingent on the applicants doing their neighborhood outreach and winning the neighbors’ support before the GWNC votes on the application in September.
152 N. Citrus Ave. – Demolition Pre-Inspection Notice
Contractor Farhad Zomordi reported that when the current owners purchased this property, which now contains a 1,700 square-foot 1920s Spanish-style single family home, they intended to build a 5,000 square foot new home on the site. But after realizing that the new R1V3-RG zoning, which is intended to discourage mansionization, prevents that large a building, they revised their plans and are now hoping to demolish the existing structure and build a new 2,700-square-foot home, which would fit into the current zoning limits and require no special entitlements. Committee chair Philp Farha noted, however, that the area (which he represents on the GWNC board) has suffered a number of recent “projects that have radically changed the neighborhood,” and strongly urged Zomordi and his clients to re-think their design and make an effort to be more compatible with the existing neighborhood context. Zomordi said this project would actually be the “smallest new project in the neighborhood,” but Farha said he has already received a number of notes from neighbors who are alarmed about the project, and other committee members shared the sentiment. Committee member Susan O’Connell suggested that the owners would find much more support from neighbors if they kept the existing building and simply added a 1,000 square foot addition, which they could also do under the current zoning rules. A motion to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the demolition and new construction passed with 7 votes in favor and one abstention.
Council File 19-0623 – Empty Homes Penalty
Finally, last night, the Committee considered a motion to support City Council File 19-0623, in which city council members Mike Bonin, Marqueese Harris-Dawson, David Ryu and Paul Koretz have requested that the city report on the number of vacant, habitable housing units in the city…and then “examine “Empty Homes” penalties, vacancy taxes, and speculator taxes in other jurisdictions, and report back with policy options for a potential “Empty Homes Penalty” structure in Los Angeles, for consideration by voters in 2020.” Committee Chair Philip Farha said he has spoken with people in Vancouver, B.C., which has such an ordinance, and that they have discovered several unintended consequences (such as retirees being taxed on their vacant homes while they winter in warmer climates). But after other committee members noted that this motion is still very exploratory and contains no specific policy points, the committee voted with 6 in favor and 2 abstentions to recommend that the GWNC Board submit a Community Impact Statement in favor of the motion, along with several specific policy recommendations to be determined before the Board vote in September, to help avoid some potential pitfalls of such an ordinance.
The full GWNC Board will meet on Wednesday, September 11, at 7 p.m. at the Ebell of Los Angeles, 743 S. Lucerne Blvd. The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held on Tuesday, September 24, at Marlborough School, 250 S. Rossmore Ave.