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Commissioners skewer Amoeba tower’s parking plan—but approve it anyway

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One big parking podium is headed for Sunset Boulevard

A tall building with a glass exterior and many windows. There is a street in front with cars. There are people in the foreground on a sidewalk opposite the building. Courtesy of GPI Companies

The city planning commission unanimously denied an appeal Thursday against a proposed 26-story tower that would replace Hollywood’s Amoeba Music, but narrowly avoided dealing a major blow to the developer’s plans for a giant above-ground parking garage.

After a spirited discussion about unsightly parking podiums, the commission voted 5-1 to approve the project. But it asked developer GPI Companies to come back with revised plans to hide the parking, and it mandated that its affordable units be for extremely low-income households instead of very low-income households as originally planned.

The Johnson Fain-designed high-rise at Sunset and Vine would hold a total of 200 housing units, with 10 designated as affordable, and 7,000 square feet of retail space. It would also contain 277 parking spaces, much of it in an above-ground podium.

The project has the support of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area. Through a spokesperson, O’Farrell said that the development would “better utilize” the site by creating housing near transit.

A tall building with a glass exterior and many windows. There is a street in front with cars. There are people in the foreground on a sidewalk opposite the building. Courtesy of GPI Companies

The appeal came from the Coalition to Preserve LA, a group largely funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has fought against tall, dense development in Hollywood, where it’s headquartered.

In its appeal, the coalition argued that the tower at 6400 Sunset Boulevard did not meet requirements for affordable housing laid out in the community redevelopment agency’s planning guidelines, which are still in effect even though the agency was dissolved in 2011.

According to the redevelopment agency’s plans, the coalition claimed, the project should have 15 percent affordable housing, not the 5 percent GPI Companies has proposed

City planning staffers and Craig Bullock, speaking for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, told the commission that 15 percent is an aggregate requirement that applies to all the developments in an area taken together, and not a benchmark that each development needs to hit.

Though the appeal was dismissed, with all the commissioners in agreement, discussion around the project’s four-floor parking podium, especially along Cahuenga Boulevard, was extended—and at times tense.

Parking podiums are widely acknowledged to be hideous and pedestrian-unfriendly, and developers use a range of techniques to disguise them, sometimes creating the appearance of office windows or “wrapping” the parking in a kind of barrier of housing units along the street.

Some commissioners were dismayed not to see those techniques here.

“They’ve done a lot of work... to try to put lipstick on a pig,” said commissioner Dana Perlman. “I think they put the nicest shade they can, but it’s still lipstick on a pig.”

“If we want dense places where people take public transportation and not focus on their cars, we have to think about what the streets look like that people are going to travel on in order to get to that public transportation,” commissioner Karen Mack said.

“What I want to hear from the developer today is: How are you going to partner with us to achieve those goals that we very clearly are stating?” she added.

Some of the parking podium treatments could have posed an obstacle for the developer. Wrapping it in livable units, for example, would most likely have required reducing the number of parking spaces.

And putting all the parking underground could potentially jeopardize the project’s Sustainable Communities Project Exemption, approved last year. That exemption allows it to sidestep the state’s rigorous environmental review process, planning deputy director Lisa Webber told the commission.

Commissioners discussed delaying approval to give GPI and its architect Johnson Fain time to rework the podium design. But the delay, and the uncertainty about when the project would return to the group, was a deterrent.

“I’m a little hesitant to continue the item based on [the parking podium],” said commissioner Caroline Choe. “Asking the applicant after 3-plus years to go back to... rejigger the numbers is something we should do very carefully.”

But, she said, “it doesn’t take away from my distaste for the podium parking.”

The discussion also spurred the commission to revisit the wording they use to guide developers about how to place parking in their projects and potentially heralds a toughening stance by the commission on parking podiums.

As for the fate of Amoeba, that’s still unclear.

Last year, the company said that it planned to remain in Hollywood, but a new location has not been announced. Plans filed with the city in 2017 showed that GPI planned to begin demolition on the site as early as mid-2019, with work on the building wrapping up in 2021.

Amoeba sold the property to GPI in October 2015 for $34 million, property records show.