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Both our anonymous source for Monday's WeHo News article on the feasibility study and Roger Moliere, MTA chief of real property and new business development, agree that the wehoville article painted a version of events that not only failed to reflect reality, but in fact perverted it.
Charlles Cohen and West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang.
Wehoville, however, had already moved past the feasibility study and reported that the development was a go – “Pacific Design Center owner Charles Cohen has entered into an exclusive agreement with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop a massive multi-use complex, comparable to Century City’s mall, with office, hotel, residential and retail space on the MTA bus depot lot on the southeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente Boulevard in West Hollywood.” (Emphases ours)
In addition, they reported, “While the exclusive negotiating agreement lasts two years, the plan approved allows for two six-month extensions.”
Yet according to the MTA, their agenda item stands as written - no “plans” for development were made, only an agreement to conduct a feasibility study.
Yet, somehow, by Monday night’s city council meeting, the citizenry and council both were up in arms about the MTA’s moving forward with “plans” to redevelop the property without any input from the city, residents or businesses.
Scott Schmidt, campaign manager for the term limits campaign, saw a nefarious side to the fact that Steve Afriat workd with Charles Cohen and council candidates Jeff Prang and John Duran.
City council candidates and the newly agitated community advocates all saw an opportunity to cast aspersions on nefarious forces working in the dark recesses of back rooms.
Steve Martin was “blown away by the plans that were presented by the MTA and the Pacific Design Center regarding the MTA site, with 12 story towers and gigantic Grove-type development that has apparently got at least preliminary approval from the MTA, allegedly without any, input, notice whatsoever to the city.”
Stephanie Harker noted that, while Charles Cohen denied having “but there was that wonderful artist rendering,” mocking it as something one might hang on one’s wall.
Campaign manager for the Yes on C (term limits) campaign, Scott Schmidt, posted “Funny that [Mr.] Cohen's lobbyist [Steve Afriat] happens to be running [Jeffrey] Prang and [John] Duran's campaign and his lawyer donated $100,000s to the library fund. Coincidence?” to his Facebook page.
Mr. Afriat declined to comment for this article. He did, however, promise WeHo News an exclusive interview with Mr. Cohen upon his return from bereavement leave.
Even the LA Weekly got into the act, stoking suspicions about backroom dealings, saying, "In the WeHo News, an anonymous source close to the negotiations between Cohen and Metro says the hubbub about the project is "all much ado about nothing." Coming from an insider, that's usually a sure sign that there's much going on about everything."
Long-time council member John Heilman confessed that while he “was completely in the dark about Charles Cohen’s plans,” he and many in the community would “prefer that the MTA bus yard would be somewhere other than along Santa Monica Boulevard.”
He did, however, bring sanity to the discussion by restating what WeHo News reported on Monday (see Developing Boystown may (or may not) happen), “that all that has happened is Mr. Cohen has been given an exclusive right to negotiate, and that’s it. No project has been approved, no plans have been approved.”
Another council member observed that the confluence of events resulting in the panic has happened before.
Explaining how misinformation, misperception or ignorance can sometimes heighten anxieties over development proposals, “What I’m hearing [here many of] the things the residents often say to us, ‘We never got any notice. I didn’t see this coming. I was totally shocked’,” said John D’Amico.
He urged an appropriate response by the city staff and the city council to assure the development, if it progresses, suits the community's needs and wishes.
Stephanie Harken said she was "gobsmacked" by the plans to redevelop the MTA site and the fact that no one informed the city or residents of them.
Regarding the reporting on the proposal, Mr. Moliere, MTA chief of real property, told WeHo News, "I read your article and you got it really right.
“We’ve been talking to the city for years as you indicated [in your article] and we had gotten to a point some months ago where we were going to enter into an ENA but got delayed,” because MTA operations wanted assurances that the bus depot could operate as normal if any plans came to fruition.
When asked about the failure to mention the feasibility of an enlarged city hall on the site, Mr. Moliere, he said, “because we’re only in the conceptual phase and only talking about the general outline of the development, there is nothing definitive [in the scope of the of the proposal].
"We know the city had evinced interest in moving into that spot along with the Sheriff, so that was certainly contemplated,” and will be part of the feasibility study produced by Cohen Brothers.
Regarding the size of the proposal, Mr. Moliere went to lengths to assure that, “there’s no project yet. I think the reason they did that, conceptually, was economic.”
Explaining that rebuilding the bus depot underground and placing uses atop it “is really expensive, and you have to have something substantial in order to make the economics work.
“Whether [what is conceptually proposed] or anything at all gets built there is really what the feasibility study is all about,” he said, adding, “We are pretty sensitive [to neighborhood concerns]; I’ve been doing this for a lot of years – for some 30 projects – and we try to make sure that the project does not disrupt the neighborhood.”
John Heilman took the new in stride, saying that he recognized a fesibility study when he saw one and that no plans existed.
Regardless what finally gets proposed by Cohen Brothers, he said, “At the end of the day you’re exactly right; it has to get approved by our board but more importantly by the West Hollywood folks. They’ve got the final say so on what goes there in terms of size, density, all those kind of things.”
He acknowledged that MTA would, as Mr. Heilman stated, prefer to move the depot elsewhere, “but we’ve looked at that for years and there’s just no spot to do it.”
After years’ of attempts to redevelop the site, Mr. Moliere thought this might be the best, last chance because of the neighbors involved, Charles Cohen and the PDC.
First of all, Mr. Cohen can obtain the kind of financing necessary to complete the project and the ability to manage the end result, something beyond that MTA’s capacity.
Additionally, said Mr. Moliere, “We abandoned this a couple, three times, just on economic grounds, quite honestly… The reason that Cohen may be able to do something is really just because he’s next door.”
Noting the “possibilities for shared parking, for example… you don’t have to worry about building setback lines, because it sits against his own property,” for another reason, he said, “that makes it maybe, maybe is the operative word, or feasible, but that’s what the study is about – to look at whether it’s possible at all.”
The source close to the negotiations WeHo News talked over the weekend dismissed Wehoville’s reporting as “irresponsible and inaccurate.”