A 1.35 million square foot commercial and residential development is planned for the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente which will generate traffic and air pollution, while materially affecting the character several of West Hollywood's historic neighborhoods.
For the past two years, Cohen Brothers, the owners of the Pacific Design Center, have been quietly working with the MTA to develop a plan, without consulting their neighbors -- the people of West Hollywood.
According to the City's staff report, the proposed MegaMall will consist of a 250 room hotel, 160,000 square feet of restaurant and retail, 400,000 square feet of office space, 402 residential units, a 100,000 square foot City Hall and Sheriff's station and 230,000 sq. ft. of space for the MTA.
Collectively, the project is more than 50% larger than the 878,000 sq. ft. Century City mall, but will have less than one-sixth the parking.
That is unacceptable in the heart of West Hollywood. That any developer would think they could get away with such an idea is a testament to the character of the current West Hollywood City Council majority.
In nearly two decades of civic engagement in the city of West Hollywood, I have supported many new businesses — like JK Hotel Group’s San Vicente Inn, Cooley’s and Skynny Kitchen — and opposed others I thought were playing fast and loose with the law, like Restoration Hardware on Melrose or the two Townscape developments on Beverly Boulevard and at Crescent Heights on Sunset.
For me, the standard is quite simple. If plans fit within the zoning ordinance and don’t need any bonuses, exemptions or variances, then it is your right to build. But if a developer wants something from the city, because they want to build bigger or taller than what’s allowed, then they have to come in with broad community support and give something meaningful back to the community.
Developers must recognize that when they come to our city, they are proposing to become neighbors, and what they leave behind will permanently alter a neighborhood.
In addition to coming in with broad community support, projects that require a development agreement should come with public benefits more substantial than the million dollar checks currently accepted by the City Council. They should provide more parking than required by code, and make it available to the public at reasonable prices. If a development includes a housing element, a significant percentage of units should be put into a “housing affordability covenant” to create new rent-controlled housing units for people making median incomes. These are real public benefits that we should be negotiating for from developers like the Cohen Brothers.
A proposal such as the MTA megamall should have never gotten this far without extensive public engagement and participation. Although the City Council will likely ask the MTA to let their agreement with Cohen Brothers expire in two months, their acquiescence to the shadowy process and collaboration on plans to build a new City Hall to date reveals their true intentions.
If we want to change the future of West Hollywood, and protect our neighborhoods, we have to change the City Council. We can do that on March 3rd.