By Edwin Folven, 2/07/2013
Metro, CBRC enter into exploratory agreement
Big changes may be in store over the next few years for the southeast corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards in West Hollywood.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board and Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation (CBRC), owner of the Pacific Design Center (PDC), recently entered into an agreement giving the CBRC exclusive rights to explore developing an 8.4-acre plot of land that currently houses the Metro District 7 bus depot. The agreement allows CBRC to create plans for the site that would incorporate a new bus facility and maintenance yard, but may also include hotels, housing, retail, office and commercial space. Although no official plans have been formally released, the proposal could also call for a renovation of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, which is located on a 2.5-acre plot of land at San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards, next to the bus depot. Metro spokesman Dave Sotero confirmed that Metro has been exploring plans to upgrade the bus depot for several years, and the proposal to build a commercial project at the site is in the preliminary stages.
Roger Moliere, chief of real property management and development for Metro, said the agreement was made with CBRC because the PDC is located directly next door to the depot, and there could be opportunities for shared parking and driveway access with a new project. Because CBRC already owns the property next door, it would also eliminate the need to establish setbacks between the PDC and whatever is built at the property. The final proposed project would likely incorporate an underground bus facility, which could serve the approximately 250 buses currently headquartered at the depot, and would allow room to bring in more buses. The present depot dates back to the 1970s and is Metro’s primary bus headquarters and maintenance facility for the entire west side of Los Angeles. Any commercial project would likely be built above the bus facility, and there would be a component where riders could catch or disembark from buses at the site.
“We are very early in the game,” Moliere said. “They have their architects working on it.”
Steve Afriat, a spokesman for CBRC, said the company submitted a conceptual plan to Metro with commercial, residential and retail space prior to the agreement being reached on Jan. 24, but that plan was only a guide to illustrate what could be built there. Afriat stated that there are currently no official plans, and that any future proposals would have to go through a lengthy process with the city of West Hollywood, Metro and the community.
“It was an agreement between my client and the MTA so (Charles Cohen, owner of the PDC and CBRC) would have the right to explore a proposal,” Afriat said. “If my client invests a significant amount of time and effort on designing something, and if Metro likes what they see, he would then have the right to develop that. [The conceptual plan submitted to Metro] was never and is not a proposed development.”
West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang said the city was not consulted prior to CBRC making arrangements with Metro, which he called “disappointing”. Although it is legal for the entities to enter into such an agreement, he believes the city should be part of all negotiations.
“The council and the city staff were somewhat surprised that they made this decision without consulting us,” Prang said. “The concept appears to be a very aggressive plan that may be overly ambitious. I think there is universal support for something at that site, but how much and how big will be the $100,000 question.”
Afriat said he is to blame for not working more closely with the city in the weeks leading up to the agreement because he represents the CBRC on such matters. He said he didn’t consult with the city because the proposal submitted to the Metro board was not an official plan, and that the agreement reached was only the first step in a long process.
“There was a miscommunication between the parties,” Afriat said. “Mr. Prang and the rest of the city council will be brought back, and we will listen to what they want there. My client takes great pride in working with his neighbors, as well as the city.”
Afriat anticipates the design and approvals process to take as long as three years. The West Hollywood City Council will have the final decision on what CBRC will be allowed to build at the site. The city has previously explored the idea of rebuilding the sheriff’s station, and perhaps relocating the West Hollywood City Hall somewhere on the site, but those proposals are also in the preliminary stages. Lt. Cheryl Newman-Tarwater confirmed that there were prior discussions about changes at the station, which was built in 1980 and is limited in its ability to accommodate expansion, but that she hadn’t heard anything lately. Because the station is on land owned by the county, any project that includes changes at the station would also require approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“There will be a series of feasibility studies,” Moliere said. “We are trying to make the areas around stations more attractive … and make it more attractive to use public transportation.”