DOWNTOWN: Despite a warning from the City Attorney’s office that creating a new sign district could open up the city to more legal challenges from billboard companies, today the Planning Commission voted to approve the Wilshire Grand hotel/office project, as well as a new sign district for the AC Martin-designed building.
Following an exhaustive seven-hour meeting on the topic, the Commission approved the project, but rejected the large-scale signage proposed by developer Thomas Properties/Hanjin, instead adopting the recommendations of Planning Department, a proposal that dramatically scaled back the signage. But the Commission nixed the Planning Dept's suggestion of so-called "architectural lighting," (non-advertising but LED lights) that would have covered the upper part of the tower. "At this point, I’m not convinced by what I have seen," said Bill Roschen, President of the Planning Commission, adding later: “This is changing the skyline in LA, and for us to make a decision [on the upper LED lighting] in one day? I am not prepared to do that.”
Overall, the Commission repeatedly praised the architecture and landscaping of the project, which drew dozens and dozens of supporters to the hearing, held at Van Nuys City Hall. And supporters liked the signage: Shiraz Tangri, a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Council, said signage is right for the commercial corridor of Figueroa, while downtown developer Hamid Behdad urged approval of the project, calling the signage "elegant" and appropriate for the area.
If the creation of a new sign district didn't generate much debate among Planning Commission members, the sign issue did get the attention of the city group at the forefront of the issue. At the start of the meeting, Chief Deputy City Atty. Bill Carter told the Planning Commission his office received the Planning Department’s recommendations and the developer’s proposal just last Friday, and hadn't had time to review how it could impact the city's oft-challenged sign code.
“We’re rushing this through without having the City Attorney review it,” said Carter, noting the Wilshire Grand sign district has already been seized upon by one sign company in litigation with the city as an example of LA’s “unfettered approval” of signage. (The case is with Vanguard Outdoor, according to Carter.)
But Mitch Menzer, lobbyist for the developer, said he didn’t believe the legal threat to the city's sign laws was quite as dire as Carter made it seem, pointing out that the "remaining issues regarding legality can be resolved at the next stop," referring to anticipated hearings on the project at the Planning and Land Use Committee or the City Council.
And Mark Mullen, Senior Advisor to Mayor Villaraigosa and COO of the Office of Economic & Business, also urged the City Attorney’s office to help see the project through. But Mullen's comments irked Carter. "It's not my job to approve projects, it's my job to see that it's legal," Carter said later.
Meanwhile, today the Planning Commission also put forward a motion to study possibly creating a bigger sign district for the area. While the approval of the Wilshire Grand looked like a cart before the horse move following that proposal, the Commission said a more comprehensive sign district in this neighborhood may be appropriate.
“This project is going to encourage a larger sign district, maybe to the reach of LA Live,” theorized Planning Commissioner Matt Epstein.
· Renderings Show Wilshire Grand Signage, What Planning Dept Recommends [Curbed LA]
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