By Edwin Folven, 7/05/2012
Mid-City West Council to Consider Height Issues
A plan to turn the former Fairfax Theatre into housing and retail shops recently won the approval of the Mid-City West Community Council’s (MCWCC) Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUC), and has gained the support of City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District.
The proposal still has some hurdles to overcome before moving forward, however. It will next be vetted by the full Mid-City West Board on Aug. 14, after which the developer would need to get approval from the city’s Planning Department, and the Los Angeles City Council.
The project is being proposed by the building’s long-time owner, Alex Gorby, who is operating as the developer, B & F Associates. Ira Handelman, a consultant representing the developer, said the PLUC’s approval is encouraging. The project would include 71 units that would be built to condominium specifications, but will likely later be marketed as apartments. It will be five stories tall, with a small structure on top housing bathrooms and showers for the rooftop pool.
The developer is seeking a variance to zoning laws in the Fairfax District, established under the community plan for the area, that limit building heights to 50 feet. As proposed, the rooftop bathrooms and showers would put the building at closer to 60 feet in height. Handelman said previously that the rooftop structure would not be visible from the street or surrounding neighborhood. Some stakeholders believe allowing one property owner to build higher than the current allowance would open the door for taller, developments throughout the Fairfax District.
“It sets a terrible precedent,” said Jim O’Sullivan, president of the Miracle Mile Residential Association and a member of Fix the City, an advocacy group that analyzes land-use issues in the 4th and 5th City Council Districts. “If they take this lot and make it Height District Two [a zoning designation that allows for buildings taller than 50 feet], it’s what I call a blockbuster. The city will not be able to defend itself from other developers who say, ‘hey, you can’t do that for them and not for us’.”
Koretz said he views the project as a catalyst for revitalizing the Fairfax District. The issue of granting height variances to other developers would be handled on a case-by-case basis. The Fairfax Theatre was last operational in 2009, and has remained vacant. Initially, some local residents and preservationists attempted to have the former theatre designated as a historic building, but the effort failed. The developer is planning to preserve the former theatre’s façade.
“I think it’s a very positive project that makes nice use of the existing façade,” said Koretz, who added that he doesn’t believe the inclusion of a bathroom and showers on the top floor will increase the building’s height beyond an acceptable level. “I think it is a very questionable issue in this case because only a portion of it will be over height, and that portion can’t be seen from the neighborhood or anywhere else. I don’t see how that would set a bad precedent.”
Cary Brazeman, a member of the MCWCC’s PLUC, added that he is confident a compromise in the building’s height can be reached.
“My feeling is we are really talking about six feet in difference, and there are ways to make this project work while maintaining the integrity of the community plan,” Brazeman said. “I proposed that we approve the project without the height district change, which is what happened. It would allow the developer to come back with a change.”
O’Sullivan added that he plans to file a lawsuit if the city grants the request for a zoning change, and added that the city council should consider to long term ramifications such a change would have on the neighborhood.
“If Paul Koretz believes busting a long standing ordinance is a good decision, then let him say so publicly. If he believes this is a good project then he should have the courage to propose throwing out the ordinance and let the public weigh in on that proposal,” O’Sullivan added. “Giving this parcel a Height District Two designation will simply encourage other developers to move for the same designation, and the city will not be able to successfully defend against legal actions should they refuse their requests.”