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Appeals court: Environmental analysis for Hollywood skyscrapers is ‘fatally defective’

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The developer says it remains committed to the project, which would rise next to Capitol Records

A rendering of two towers and a collection of low-rise buildings slated to rise around the Capitol Records building.
A rendering of the Hollywood Center project, a reworked version of the Millennium project.
Courtesy of Hollywood Center

A California appeals court determined Wednesday that the environmental analysis of a $1 billion, skyline-altering development next to Hollywood’s iconic Capitol Records building is “fatally defective.”

The three-judge panel affirmed that the project description in the environmental analysis was too ambiguous, inhibiting the public from fully reviewing a development that could have profound impacts on the neighborhood.

“Missing from this application was any description or detail regarding what Millennium intended to build,” wrote Second District Court of Appeal pro-tem judge Ann Jones. “The project description is not simply inconsistent, it fails to describe the siting, size, mass, or appearance of any building proposed.”

The analysis, with its vague description, was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in July 2013.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2013 by a group named Stop the Millennium Hollywood and the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association. Stop the Millennium Hollywood’s lawyer, Robert Silverstein, hailed the ruling as a victory.

“The EIR was so blurry, it amounted to a fraud on the public,” Silverstein said in a statement.

The city was named as a defendant, and a spokesperson for the city attorney’s office did not return a message seeking comment.

As damaging as the ruling appears, it’s unclear what effect—if any—it will have on plans for development at the site at 1720 North Vine Street.

Last spring, developer MP Los Angeles submitted plans for a reworked project with a new name: Hollywood Center.

The Hollywood Center project would be made up of two towers, not three, as originally proposed, with heights of 35 and 46 stories. The developer now wants to incorporate much more housing—more than 1,000 units, including 133 for low-income seniors.

The project would be still be designed by Handel Architects, with parks and plazas designed by High Line designer James Corner Field Operations—and it would still feature the tallest towers in Hollywood.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to Hollywood and realizing our vision for the underutilized parking lots surrounding Capitol Records,” Mario Palumbo, managing partner of MP Los Angeles, said in a statement today. “That is why we have been continuously working on revised plans for this iconic property.”

When the Millennium project was proposed in plans to the city in 2008, “detail was not omitted,” Jones wrote in the ruling.

But those details disappeared from the state-mandated environmental impact report.

In initial plans to the city, the project, when it was known as Millennium Hollywood, was described as a mixed-use development with a trio of towers.

The tallest would hit a height of 45 stories with 33 floors of residential units. The other two would rise side by side out of a low-rise building: a 34-story residential tower and a 14-story hotel with 200 rooms. Also included in the complex would be 100,000 square feet of office space, a 35,000-square-foot “sports club,” and eateries.

But in the draft and final environmental analyses, the developer only presented a handful of “conceptual scenarios”—not clear plans for what would be built, the appeals court ruling states.

The decision upholds an earlier ruling that invalidated the city’s approval of the environmental analysis and required the developer start the process all over.

“The draft EIR did not contain site plans, cross-sections, building elevations, or illustrative massing to show what buildings would be built, where they would be sited, what they would look like, and how many there would be,” the ruling explains.

In court, the city and the developer argued that as long as the project analyzed the maximum environmental impacts from any version of the project that might be built and didn’t build anything that would require mitigation measures beyond what had already been laid out, that they were in the clear.

The appeals court disagreed. By omitting vital project information, it said, the developer created “an obstacle to informed public participation,” violating key requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Last year, the state granted the developer special streamlining status so that any lawsuits filed against the project under the Environmental Quality Act would have to wrap up in nine months or less.