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Gehry-Designed Hollywood Project Reduced 50 Feet Following Public Outcry at WeHo Planning

Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2016 – 10:15 PM

(CNS) – A proposed Frank Gehry-designed mixed-use project in Hollywood was reduced in height by about 50 feet Tuesday following intense opposition from community groups, neighbors and the area’s councilman.   

The council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee approved revised plans for the project at 8150 Sunset Blvd., near Crescent Heights Boulevard and the border with West Hollywood.   The project was the subject of nearly half a dozen appeals, including by West Hollywood and various community groups and neighbors who said the project as proposed was too tall and big.   The developer, Townscape Partners, agreed Tuesday to lower the height of its tallest building from 234 feet — or 15 stories — to 178 feet tall, and to reduce the number of residential units from 249 to 229.

Townscape also agreed to set aside $2 million the city can use for improvements at a traffic island within the project.

The project site permits a lower density than is being proposed by Townscape. To receive approval for a density bonus that would allow the project to be bigger, the developer is making several dozen units affordable for low- income and workforce tenants.

The proposed project will go to City Council next week, and if approved, would be built in a neighborhood that includes the Chateau Marmont, Granville Towers, Colonial House and other iconic Hollywood residences that have served as homes for stars such as Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe.

The project would replace a strip mall with a bank, fast food restaurants, a dry cleaner, an ice cream shop and other similar establishments.

In addition to the residential units, mostly apartments, the project would include 65,000 square feet of commercial space, with plans for a grocery store, restaurants and retail shops.   Gehry was brought in to design the project after residents balked at the more traditional designs and plans initially presented at public meetings.

Townscape unveiled Gehry’s more fanciful vision for the project featuring the architect’s signature swooping facades to much fanfare, but some residents and stakeholders groused that the developer became less open to compromise.   When Gehry’s design was released, “the whole thing just blew up overnight and got an OK without any of the input that’s been provided for quite some time,” said Anastasia Mann, president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council.   Mann said she felt that with Gehry’s name came “arrogance” from developers and city officials who seemed bent on getting the project approved without accepting any significant changes suggested by members of the public.   Mann said developers had intimated that Gehry’s involvement in the project would “go away” if the scale of the project were reduced, to which her response was, “I don’t really care.”

“I think it’s nice to have a notable architect’s name on a project — of course it’s nice,” Mann said, but she added that “you can’t sacrifice everything else in order to put Frank Gehry’s name on something.”

Sascha Freudenheim, a spokeswoman for Townscape, said earlier Tuesday that developers had already made many changes to the project.

During a “five-year process we and our architecture team have made modifications to the project’s program and design based on the input of hundreds of stakeholder meetings,” she said.

The project had so far sailed through the approval process, with the city Planning Commission approving the project in July after Gehry showed up at the hearing to support it.

However, the project faced challenges in the form of appeals filed by five groups, including West Hollywood, and Fix the City, a group that has sued to halt other development plans in Hollywood and around the city.   West Hollywood City Councilwoman Lindsey Horvath told City News Service this week that because the project sits right outside its borders, “residents have a variety of concerns,” and the municipality’s attorneys were in negotiations and discussions with the developer.   Opponents say the project would dwarf nearby buildings, which must follow a 45-foot height limit. One appellant, the owner of a nearby apartment building, called the project a “monstrosity” that would negatively affect her property.   The changes approved in committee Tuesday meet many of the demands made last week by City Councilman David Ryu, whose district includes the project.

In a letter to his colleagues on the planning committee, Ryu stated his opposition to the project, and recommended that the tallest building be reduced in height by 20 to 30 percent, along with other changes.   Ryu acknowledged Gehry’s design is “unique,” with the “potential to become a part of the architecturally significant fabric of this neighborhood,” but he said the project would be a de facto revision of existing planning guidelines for the area.   Another obstacle the project had been facing was a historical-cultural landmark application for a mid-century-style bank building, Lytton Savings, that is slated for demolition under Townscape’s proposal.   It was not clear Tuesday whether there are plans to preserve the site, but architects with Gehry’s design firm have objected to keeping the building and dismiss its design as following an “outdated commercial real estate model.”

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