PLUM Committee Approves BMO/BHO and Caruso Project

Hundreds attended the PLUM Committee meeting yesterday when the committee approved the BMO/BHO Ordinances and Rick Caruso's 333 La Cienega Project
Hundreds attended the PLUM Committee meeting yesterday as it voted to approve the BMO/BHO Ordinances and Rick Caruso’s 333 La Cienega Project

Yesterday, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee of the Los Angeles City Council approved the Baseline Mansionization and Baseline Hillside Ordinances as drafted by the City’s Planning Department, closing several loopholes in the old 2008 law, including one that had exempted garages from the total square footage of a house and thus helped developers build oversized houses out of scale with many Los Angeles neighborhoods.

Homeowners from the La Brea-Hancock neighborhood, including Cathy Roberts and Diana and Robert Eisele, urged the committee to approve the revised ordinances…which would count at least some garage footage in the total floor area calculation. They also asked that La Brea Hancock be covered by a new R-1 Single Family zone as soon as those rules become finalized. Currently the neighborhood is covered by a Interim Control Ordinance (ICO), which is set to expire in March, and the new R1 designation (part of a group of such designations PLUM also approved) would provide even more specific protections than the BMO. (Nearby Sycamore Square and Brookside, under a similar ICO that expires a year later, in 2018, would also be eligible for the new R-1 ordinances.) The new R1 rules are still being worked out by the city, but final versions are expected before the ICOs expire.

The votes on these issues came late in the day, after a protracted discussion on Rick Caruso’s 333 S La Cienega project, which was also approved after Mr. Caruso agreed to an 11th-hour compromise drafted by CD 5 Council Member Paul Koretz. Caruso agreed to reduce the height of the building to 185 feet.  The project will also reserve 10% of the units (14) for affordable housing and contribute $500,000 to a fund to “assist the homeless efforts.”

Caruso said the project is very personal to him, saying he remembered washing cars at the location when it was the home to Dollar Rent a Car, so he wants this to be a great project. He described his efforts to work with homeowners and the Mid City West Community Council, which voted to support the project. According to Steve Luftman, a member of the MCWCC who opposed the project, Caruso bought the land from his father.

Scott Goldstein, Chair of the MCWCC turns to address the other members of MCWCC who spoke in support of the Caruso project
Scott Epstein, Chair of the MCWCC, turns to address the other members of MCWCC who spoke in support of the Caruso project

Scott Epstein, chair of the MCWCC, spoke with a phalanx of members standing behind him and said the council voted to support the project because it provides affordable housing units without displacing anyone. Epstein said the site is like an island,  and that he feels it can handle the density and height proposed. He also added that the MCWCC liked the benefits Caruso promised, including bike lanes and public space.

The hearing room was packed with people who wore “yes” stickers to show their support for the Caruso project. Hancock Park resident Caroline Styne said she supported the project, and that it would be an improvement for her customers at the Larder, currently located across the street in another Caruso project. Lyn MacEwen Cohen, Founder of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition, said her board unanimously supported the project as a “gateway to the Miracle Mile.”

Dick Plotkin, (right) listens and to his attorney expressing his group's opposition to the Caruso project
Dick Plotkin, (right) listens and to his attorney expressing his group’s opposition to the Caruso project

Originally approved by PLUM, the project hit a snag recently when neighbors objected to the approval of the first-proposed 240-foot building, which greatly exceeded the 45-foot height limit in the current zoning. The Beverly Wilshire Homeowners Association and the Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance filed appeals opposing the project. Sabrina Briskus, attorney representing the homeowners, said the project was a example of spot zoning and they would prefer a 61 foot building that would be permitted according to their interpretation of the code. They also said they would support a medical center use instead of housing. (Nearby Cedars-Sinai had expressed interest in the site as a cancer center.) Dick Plotkin also spoke against the project, saying it would be better to locate the project on Wilshire Blvd. or in Century City, where there are no height restrictions.

After the public comment, CD 12 Council Member Mitch Englander, who serves on the PLUM Committee, praised Caruso and the project, saying it was “unfairly politicized in the media and community.” He said he would take a page from the “Koretz playbook” of telling developers to first go to the community, get its support and then present the project to the city.

In other business during the more than three-hour meeting, the PLUM Committee also approved an HPOZ for Sunset Square, which was supported by both District 4 Council Member David Ryu and District 5 Council Member Koretz.

The new BMO rules will now move to the full City Council for final approval, though it’s likely the vote will not take place, as requested by the City Attorney’s office, until the final draft of the new R1 zones is ready for a vote at the same time.

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About Patricia Lombard

Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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