Residential/Commercial Project as Not Compatible
The exercise room at the Palisades-Malibu YMCA on Via de la Paz was packed Wednesday night for the Design Review Board hearing of the proposed 5-story apartment building and ground-floor retail on the former Jack-in-the-Box site along Sunset.
Although the Palisades Specific Plan, which encompasses Sunset Boulevard from Los Leones Drive to Pacific Coast Highway, states “no project. . .shall exceed two stories or 30 feet in height,” the project at 17346 Sunset would rise 60’9” and represent 32,225 sq. ft. on the 1,860 sq. ft. site.
Representative Michael Gonzales, of Gonzales Law Group, representing developer Michael Aminpour (California Food Managers LLC), explained at the August 29 hearing that by adding four low-income apartments to the project, by law, he is allowed to double the height.
The building would include subterranean parking, commercial on the first floor, one two-bedroom apartment, 31 one-bedroom apartments and eight studios.
Gonzales said that the total parking required is 47 spaces and that would include resident parking and commercial parking. The project’s plans include 49 total parking spaces.
Neither Gonzales nor architect Farzin Maly had brought a material board (generally has small samples of the glass, aluminum or other building materials) or landscaping plans. Both are common in DRB presentations.
Public comment was taken, with Gonzales answering questions. A friend of the developer was the first to speak and said the project “was amazing. It’s a property that has been neglected and the design is excellent.”
A Highlands resident who had heard a prior presentation wanted to know how the proposed materials, such as copper and aluminum, would hold up to the salt air.
Architect Maly told her they weren’t actually using those materials and that they had been told that materials they plan to use would be fine.
A DRB member commented “It would have been good to have a material board, so that we could see them.”
The resident also asked if there would be a restaurant, recalling that in a prior presentation, “You said there would be a high traffic restaurant that would serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Gonzales said they hadn’t decided, but they had included the idea, so the traffic impact was included in the Mitigated Negative Declaration.
Another resident had questions about the parking and Gonzales said that it was based on the City Planning requirements and that the state law, their 49 spaces are more than they need for 41 units and a 3,000 sq. foot commercial operation on the ground floor.
The attorney was not asked if parking requirements would differ if the first floor held a restaurant.
A resident commented on the design “I have built 17 homes from Pacific Palisades to Santa Barbara and this is a concrete shoe box with lots of windows.”
A Castellammare resident, noting that his home looked over directly at this area, commented about the design. “There is nothing compatible with the surrounding community. This is a box. Modify the project, step it back. Look at the building across the street [from the Jack-in-the-Box] it opens up to Sunset [with the setbacks]. This is an eyesore. It will stick out like a sore thumb.”
He received applause from the audience.
Another resident, curious about the space between the apartment units, wondered if there was any room for plants or green space and then added “This is totally out of size for the community.”
Edgewater Towers Condominium Homeowners Association lawyer Thomas Donovan had sent a letter via the City intended for each DRB member but planning commissioner Kenton Trinh had not forwarded it to them.
A portion of the letter was then read aloud, and it noted: 1) height is incompatible with surrounding buildings; 2) possible noise and lighting issues from the deck top of the building, which is slated as a gathering place; and 3) visibly incompatible with surrounding areas [on Sunset], which are all one story.
DRB member Maryam Zar noted that this Pacific Palisades is mostly families, but that the rentals are mostly one-bedroom and studios. “The building is not beach friendly, the materials don’t reduce the balance of the mass, brick is veneer, aluminum isn’t aluminum.
“The size is huge because of the allotments [for the four low-income apartments],” she said. “The community doesn’t think its compatible. It doesn’t work.”
Gonzales argued that there are no design guidelines and told the DRB “Make some guidelines.”
Acting Chair Barbara Kohn told him there are guidelines in the Specific Plan Section 14.A, which include nine specifications, and quoted several concluding with number 7: “The size of proposed building or structure shall be similar in scale to surrounding buildings and structures and shall be appropriate to the character of the areas.”
Kohn also pointed out that Sunset Boulevard is designated as a scenic highway.
Several people, both audience and DRB members, noted that this project might fit in downtown, perhaps at Sunset and Western, but not next to Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean.
DRB member Sarah Griffin was also concerned that if this design goes through, it would open the door to more development on either side of this building.
DRB member Paul Darrall (Darrall Design Consultants) said, “I’m stunned. You guys have done a lot of work. Why weren’t you here during an early stage?”
This was a final review. The DRB might have had design suggestions had developers come in earlier.
Darrall spoke about his experiences working with different city design review boards. “This [final review] distresses me from a professional viewpoint.”
He then suggested that the top three floors should have setbacks and a shadow plan (Will all the apartments receive light?).
“I do a lot of senior living facilities and this building looks like one,” he said, and agreed with peers about the compatibility. “There’s a little shopping center [next to it] and then you see a big mass.”
He wondered, “What will it do the hillside? There is movement in that land.”
Highlands resident Leah Cox, who was appointed to the DRB the day before, works as an executive in a law firm [she is not a lawyer]. Earlier, she admitted she was not familiar with the specific plan but agreed with other DRB Members, “I have serious concerns about the design.”
The DRB asked the developer if he would consider tiering the building so that there would be some setback and then come back and present again; possibly bringing a material board and landscaping.
Gonzales said they declined to make changes or bring the project back.
The DRB then voted unanimously (5-0) to oppose the project as presented because of lack of compatibility with adjacent properties, the mass (no setbacks), the height issue, sunlight to apartments, landscaping is not adequate, the lack of a material board, material is not applied consistently throughout the building and it does not conform with the Palisades ambiance.
This board joined the Pacific Palisades Community Council, which rejected the proposed project on August 22.
Edgewater lawyer Donovan asked the L.A. City Planning Commission to be more professional in notifications in the future. He had not received the cancellation notice of the prior DRB meeting [August 14]. The notice for the evening meeting was sent out at noon. He was also upset that his letter sent to Planning had not been forwarded to the board.