West Hollywood’s Planning Commission voted 4-1 to approve controversial changes to the proposed Restoration Hardware project for a home furnishings showroom building on Melrose Avenue during its Thursday night meeting, but neighbors living nearby already say they will appeal that decision to the City Council.
“They didn’t address the substantive issues, they only touched on the margins and this is not a beauty contest,” said Richard Giesbret, president of the West Hollywood West Residents Association. “Yes, we will appeal it.”
About 20 residents living in the West Hollywood West neighborhood immediately south of the planned two-story, 30,000 square-foot building at 8564 Melrose Ave. at Westmount turned out to protest changes to the building. Revised plans include lowering the Melrose-facing façade to one story and making the entire façade more ornate.
Restoration Hardware’s request to add a rooftop deck to display its outdoor furniture line proved the most contentious. The company contends the rooftop terrace will be a public space where anyone can bring their lunch or read the newspaper. Residents worried the store would hold events on the roof or possibly open a restaurant.
“It’s really about the roof and its commercial potential,” Giesbret said.
“Why give them the opportunity to create a venue to hold events?” said Ruth Cislowski, who lives directly behind the project.
Residents also expressed concern about the potential noise and lighting from the roof, and worried that people might be able to see into their homes and backyards.
The commissioners, who were impressed by the design changes, added a condition to the approval that the roof lights could only be on during store hours and that a maximum of four events could be held on the roof per year, each of which would require a special-event permit from the city. They also pointed out that the building does not have a conditional use permit as a restaurant.
The City Council originally approved the building in November 2012 for two tenants – one wholesale, one retail. Restoration Hardware was always intended to be one of those tenants, but in March 2013 opted to take over the entire building and make it into its California flagship store.
Residents were upset that a building initially approved as half wholesale, half retail was now going to be 100 percent retail, calling it a “bait and switch.” City attorney Mike Jenkins said the city considers Restoration Hardware a wholesale business. Residents pointed out the company carries a retail business license.
Commissioner Marc Yeber asked DeMonty Price, Restoration’s vice president of retail stores, whether the company was wholesale or retail.
“We are a design showroom,” responded Price.
Not satisfied with that answer, Yeber asked the question again. Price again said they were a “design showroom,” adding that it was a “hybrid” of retail and wholesale, but only three percent of their business was cash and carry.
When asked if the store collects sales tax, Price said “yes.” Audience members shouted out collecting sales tax makes them a retail business.
Jenkins then said the commission was only there to consider the proposed changes to the building, and that the wholesale vs. retail issue was moot as a court had already ruled on it in January.
During a break in the meeting, a half dozen West Hollywood West residents (who filed the lawsuit) gathered around Jenkins arguing that the court ruling did not address the retail-wholesale aspect. The exchange grew heated until Community Development Director Stephanie DeWolfe broke it up.
Yeber, who cast the sole dissenting vote, expressed doubts the public would ever use the rooftop terrace, saying it will ultimately become “dead space.”
Meanwhile Commissioner John Altschul said the rooftop terrace could possibly create a vibrant new type of space for the public to use.
“To be able to go upstairs and relax sounds like a good idea,” Altchsul said.
Restoration Hardware showed a drawing of the roof with large planter boxes for greenery and olive trees. Several residents, as well as Yeber, expressed concern the roof couldn’t support the weight of the planters and that olive trees couldn’t survive in 30-inch deep boxes.
“I’d like to see drawings of the building without plants because they’ll all be dead,” said Lynn Hoopingarner, who lives in the West Hollywood North area, a half-mile north of the project.
Restoration Hardware has a 15-year-lease on the building with options for two five-year renewals. However residents worried whether a restaurant or club might open there after Restoration Hardware leaves and use the roof terrace. They noted the building’s conditional use permit could easily be changed.
“You need to think about the long term, not just the short term,” said Hoopingarner, adding that an environmental analysis was needed.
Residents were also worried that the two-level, 129-space underground parking garage might not be able to hold all the store’s customers. Architect Angela Matt said the 18,000-square-foot Restoration Hardware store at 8722 Beverly Blvd. (adjacent to Cedars Sinai Medical Center) gets a total of about 70 customers on weekdays, never more than seven at a time, and a total of about 100 customers on weekends, never more than 10 at a time.
“The Beverly Boulevard store is the second most profitable store in the chain,” said Matt. “The parking garage will more than handle it.”
Matt explained the company wanted to move to Melrose Avenue because of the proximity to the Pacific Design Center, but intended to keep the Beverly Boulevard location open as one of its specialty stores.
Commissioner Donald DeLuccio had to recuse himself from the hearing as he lives within 500 feet of the project. Newly appointed commissioner Heidi Shink was not present as she is recovering from back surgery. She is expected to be sworn in at the Sept. 19 meeting.