There were two key issues that pushed West Hollywood residents to create their own city three decades ago: gay rights and rent control.
Since then, the city has passed a slew of tenants' rights laws, and required developers of new residential projects to reserve a percentage of their developments for moderate and low-income housing or pay a fee.
Developers are now seeking the city's permission to build a mixed-income housing project on Beverly Boulevard, with 64 market-rate housing units and 17 affordable units. But when city staff noticed lower-income residents would be denied access to a pool that can be viewed from their apartments, it caused a stir.
The developers also planned to build a separate entrance for the affordable housing area, which was clustered mostly on one floor of the building.
The plans called for "the affordable units looking down on a pool they are prohibited from using," said a recent staff report from West Hollywood's Community Development Department. "This very obvious delineation of amenities runs contrary to West Hollywood's policies of inclusiveness and equal access for all."
Social critics refer to such development practices as "poor doors" because of the separation of income groups, which has caused an uproar in other major cities.
Amid growing outcry in West Hollywood, the developers, Beverly Blvd. Associates, L.P., agreed last week to allow shared access to the pool and the building, according to Brian Lewis, a spokesman for the developers.
But the initial proposal for such separations in this city known for protecting tenants' rights has many shaking their heads.
"To think that this would happen in West Hollywood is just beyond comprehension," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants' rights group that played a key role in the city's founding.
"While the units that are being proposed are a good thing ... one has to think, what in the hell did this developer have in mind to propose something like this?" he asked. "It just really is degrading and humiliating for low-income people and that cannot be tolerated."
There appears to be a growing backlash in other communities as well. So-called poor door projects have drawn protests in places like London and
Beverly Blvd. Associates wants to expand a 10-story office and commercial tower at 8899 Beverly Boulevard — the former headquarters of talent agency ICM Partners — and convert it for residential use.
The third floor, now used for parking, would be enclosed and converted to office space and 10 affordable housing units. In addition, nine single-family homes and seven affordable apartments would be built on a surface parking lot on Rosewood Avenue.
Beverly Blvd. Associates is a partnership of Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills, and New York investment firm
"We have worked tirelessly over the last several years to craft a project that provides an extraordinary public benefit by building significantly more affordable housing units than would otherwise be required for a project this size," the developers said in an e-mailed statement.
"The City of West Hollywood previously recommended comparable amenities, which we had agreed to. If the City now feels that shared amenities and access best meet the needs of the residents of the affordable housing units, we are more than willing to accept those conditions."
City law says developers are expected to disperse affordable housing units throughout the development. Beverly Blvd. Associates has proposed, in order to cluster most of the units on one floor, to build a community meeting room and contribute $1 million to the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which is used by nonprofit developers to build affordable housing.
A packed public West Hollywood Planning Commission meeting last Thursday attracted dozens of speakers, including those who said they were concerned that separate amenities had been proposed, even if the developers had changed their minds.
"It saddens me," said Planning Commissioner Heidi Shink. "This is not what the city of West Hollywood is about.... It should not have been on the table to begin with."
Still, others said the development should be approved because it would create 17 affordable units at a time when such housing is desperately needed.
"This developer is doing something good for the city by adding affordable housing, not taking it away," said resident James Francis.
The commission voted against the project, which was already controversial because of its size. It would nearly double the size of the 52-year-old building, which is older than the city and does not meet current zoning requirements.
The commission's recommendation will now go to the City Council, which will make the final decision regarding the project at a later date.