West Hollywood, California (Thursday, May 15, 2008)
A letter sent to the neighbors of Walgreens’s proposed development by a land use consultant in the Walgreens developer’s name to clarify “misinformation” the neighborhood might have heard created a stir last week.
Merchants and neighbors alike questioned the accuracy of several of the claims made, saying that the letter itself muddies the water by shading the truth; the letter’s writer defends the statements as “correct.”
The letter, ostensibly from Ronald Recht of Pacific Partners LLC, the development partner building a mixed-use complex at the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevards, begins, “I wanted to take this opportunity to give you an update… and to correct some misinformation you may have heard.”
It goes on to state that, “…we have completely overhauled our project in response to neighborhood concerns.” Dennis Grant, who lives just feet away from the development and heads the West Hollywood Neighbors Association (not to be confused with the West Hollywood Neighborhood Association, or WEHONA) claims otherwise.
“All of the so-called ‘improvements’ to the plans were generated at the insistence of the city planners, from the architecture to the traffic mitigations,” he told WeHo News.
“Sure, we brought these things up in comments, but they wouldn’t have changed a thing if not for the city’s demands that they address the problems with the plans,” he said.
Robert Kalonian, a consultant working for The Afriat Consulting Group, Inc. and who penned the letter on behalf of his client, denied misleading anyone.
“We have listened to all the neighbors’ input and acted on it,” he said, “from adding landscaping and lighting at Norma Kemper’s request to adding opaque glass where walls face the residences behind the project.”
“I have never seen a developer bend over so far backwards in an effort to accommodate the neighborhood,” he said. “From the start [Pacific Partners] has responded directly to the city’s and neighbors’ requests.”
He listed the original design overhaul that included rental housing, made at the request of the city itself, changes to the design to make it more palatable to the public, changes that added retail space to accommodate the neighbors’ demands for neighborhood serving businesses and the reversal of those plans due to the same neighbors’ concerns over traffic impacts at an already-difficult to manage intersection.
Mr. Grant reiterated his claim that each of those changes, while having been suggested by the public, came about only after intersession by city design and/or planning staff.
He lamented the fact that the developer’s liaison to the neighborhood, Mr. Kalonian, refused to meet with him to discuss the project.
Mr. Kalonian said that he was aggravated by Mr. Grant’s false assertions throughout the process and because of that, would not meet with him.
“I’m considering having my name taken off [the association's] E mail list,” he said. “I have in fact met
with Norma and Dennis on various occassions. But because they demonstrated that they are not coming into the meeting with an open mind and are not genuinely looking to work with us, I decided it would be a waste of both our time to continue meeting.”
Another point of contention issued in the missive; “with our assistance, [the evicted] businesses secured new nearby locations, including… West Hollywood Beauty Supply… and Marco’s Trattoria & Pizzeria.”
Marco Capanni, owner of Marco’s, when asked about the assertion, said, They didn’t help me relocate. What did they do to help me?
“I did all that planning myself a long time ago,” he said.
Marco’s Trattoria will move across the street to his Café Marco’s space, which is opening in a space behind that one in a few weeks.
Likewise, Lily Mashachi, owner of West Hollywood Beauty Supply and Salon, which has moved down the street to a space next to La Boheme Restaurant, responded, “Their assistance? No, no, no, no. That is not right.
“This location, I find it myself,” she finished.
Mr. Kalonian defended the statement by referring to the hiring of a local commercial real estate agent to scout the city for appropriate spaces for the tenants.
“Not all of the shop owners needed the help, but we did make it available to them,” he said. “and no one should forget that we not only have given the businesses additional operating time on the site while they sought new locations.
“We also have not raised their rent at all since Walgreens bought the property in 2000. They have been paying 2000 rents for eight years.”
Mr. Grant, in an E mail, disagreed with that perspective.
“One thing is true…they state that they allowed the current small businesses “to stay and continue serving the community.” What they don’t mention is that in fact they decided to throw out the tenants last year with 30 days notice. They relented only after major neighborhood and community protest.” (See Walgreens Grants Merchants Reprieve – June 7, 2007 for details.)
Finally, the letter claims that WEHONA, “for the first time since its founding– has formally endorsed the project and hailed it as a model for development throughout West Hollywood.”
WEHONA board members, while individually supportive of the project, said that the board did not make a formal endorsement as a body.
Roy Rogers Oldenkamp, who wrote an op-ed piece for these pages entitled “WEHONA MEMBERSHIP SUPPORTS WALGREENS,” March 17, 2008, pointed out a difference, in nuance, with Kalonian’s claim.
“We all supported the project, except one member,” he said. “We never formally, as a body, endorsed it; most of us individually still support it and do see it as a model for cooperation in developing the city.”
Allegra Allison, another WEHONA board member, said, “We all voted to support it, but didn’t formally do so out of deference to the one board member who did not support the project.
Mr. Kalonian asserts that the difference was essentially meaningless, “I was taking the article Roy wrote for WeHo News on its face. If they technically, as a body, did not endorse it, I know that almost all of the board does individually.”
The project is slated to come before the Planning Commission on June 5 at 6:30 in the West Hollywood Auditorium at 647 San Vicente Boulevard. The developers will be asking for a negative declaration of the Environmental Impact Report.
This article was updated at 4:30 p.m. to include information included in an E mail from Mr. Kalonian.