WEST HOLLYWOOD — When new construction projects are announced, real estate agents are often leading the cheering section, excited about the prospect of making money by selling or leasing the new buildings.
However, in the case of the proposed 8150 Sunset Boulevard project, one real estate agent is leading the charge against the building.
Local resident Rory Barish, a real estate agent with Keller Williams in Beverly Hills, has been fighting the 8150 Sunset project since it was first announced in 2013. She is one of the people spearheading Save Sunset Blvd., a group opposed to the massive project on the southwest corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights Boulevards, feeling it is far too large for the neighborhood and will have severe traffic impacts on an already perpetually congested area.
As the project heads to the Los Angeles City Council for final approval, Barish is fighting harder than ever.
The 8150 Sunset project is a controversial, 334,000-square-foot retail and residential project located on the site that once housed the famed Garden of Allah hotel, a posh playground for Hollywood celebrities. The famous hotel was torn down in 1959, replaced by a strip mall.
In 2013, Townscape Partners purchased the strip mall and announced plans for a massive development that included a 16-story, 216-foot tall tower of residential units. When the project met stiff opposition, Townscape hired acclaimed architect Frank Gehry to redesign it.
Gehry’s renderings with odd angles, curved edges and steel walls appear to be a first cousin to his Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Barish is unimpressed with the Gehry designs, believing he was hired purely for his reputation.
“They used Frank Gehry to get it passed,” said Barish, a former model and actress who began selling real estate in the late 1980s. “Gehry is working on so many other projects with [Los Angeles Mayor Eric] Garcetti. He’s a golden boy now and they used him to get it passed.”
Barish and her colleagues on Save Sunset Blvd. are particularly distressed by the massing of the multi-building project, which will have 65,000 square feet of commercial space, including a 25,000-square-foot grocery store, and 249 residential units, including 37 units for low- and moderate-income families.
While the buildings along Sunset are just three stories high, the buildings on the southern part of the property, abutting residential areas, are much higher. Along Crescent Heights, one building is 11 stories, approximately 174 feet tall, and along Havenhurst Drive, another building will be 15 stories and 234 feet tall.
“None of it should be taller than 100 feet,” said Barish, who lives adjacent to the project on Havenhurst in the Colonial House apartment building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “It’s going up beside an historic neighborhood that is much smaller.
“The tallest nearby buildings are Colonial House, which is six stories, Granville Towers on Crescent Heights which is seven stories and the Chateau Marmont which is eight. And they’re wanting to build something that is 234 feet tall.”
Traffic impacts are also a major concern. Barish said the busy Sunset-Crescent Heights intersection already has an “F-rating” and the project will only add to the congestion, not to mention make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to get through. Project plans call for entrances and exits, plus all deliveries, to be on Havenhurst Drive.
“It’s a small street and it’s already a cut-through street,” Barish said. “Now, they want to add all those cars and trucks? What are they thinking?”
Barish emphasized that Save Sunset Blvd. is not against development in general, or even against development on the 8150 Sunset site.
“Our mission is to ensure responsible development,” she said. “We’re fighting for responsible development. We’re not against development or growth, but it has to be responsible and this project is not.”
Save Sunset Blvd. has been working with other area groups to fight the project, including the groups Fix the City, the Coalition to Preserve L.A., and the Laurel Canyon Association.
“There’s power in numbers,” she said. “We’re banding together to say no more. We’re tired of this.”
Despite four separate appeals, including one from the city of West Hollywood (although in Los Angeles, the West Hollywood border is immediately behind the property), the Los Angeles City Planning Commission unanimously approved the project in late July. It now moves to the Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee.
If that body approves it, the project goes before the full Los Angeles City Council for final approval. Councilman David Ryu, who represents the district where the project lies, has expressed reservations.
Barish was thrilled by a victory on September 15 when the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously agreed to grant historic-cultural landmark status to the Lytton Savings building on the 8150 property. Now a Chase Bank, the mid-century modern building with its zig-zag roof and glass walls offered a radical architectural departure from traditional bank building when it opened in 1960.
However, the Los Angeles City Council must give final approval to the landmark designation. The council will likely consider the designation at the same time it considers approving the project.
Barish knows that fighting the 8150 Sunset project is an uphill battle, noting that Townscape Partners spent $166,715 in the first quarter of 2016 lobbying for the project, according to a report by the city’s Ethics Commission.
“If everything I did in life, I backed off because I didn’t think I could win, what would that mean, what kind of person would I be?” Barish asked. “I have integrity and I have to fight for what I believe in and what I think is wrong and unfair.”
The issue will come before the City Council’s Planning, Land Use, Management Committee (PLUM) on Oct. 25 at 2:30 p.m. at Los Angeles City Hall.
The committee will hear the case for 8150 Sunset Blvd. and all five appeals at the same time and may even hear the Lytton Savings Bank Cultural Historic Monument status.