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Planners Reject Westwood Hotel as Too Big for Site

Times Staff Writer

The Murdock Development Co.'s proposal to build a 14-story, 215-room luxury hotel at the south edge of Westwood Village was dealt a crippling blow Thursday by the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, which ruled that the $30-million project is too large for its planned half-acre site.

The ruling, by a 3-2 vote, effectively blocks construction of the controversial project unless Murdock officials dramatically scale down its size or win an appeal before the City Council.

It is likely that an appeal will be filed, leaving the council to determine how many rooms the hotel may contain, a company spokesman said. But a successful appeal would require a two-thirds vote of the 15-member council, an action that is very unlikely, Westside Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky predicted.

Yaroslavsky said the project could die unless Murdock officials agree to reduce the bulk, including the height, of the structure.

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“If they appeal this (Planning Commission) decision, we will not support” the appeal, Yaroslavsky said. “That’s just the way it’s going to be. I can’t conceive of a situation occurring where this project will (contain) 215 rooms.”

The council generally supports the wishes of a councilman on a project in his district.

The commission vote came despite arguments by Murdock officials that the hotel would improve the ambiance of Westwood Village and provide an important anchor for its business community. The project would be at Wilshire Boulevard and Gayley Avenue in one of the most heavily traveled portions of Los Angeles.

Murdock spokesman Rudy Cole told the five-member commission that the company can go no further to reduce the scope of the project. The original 250-room design has been reduced by 35 rooms, he said, and developers have excluded large meeting and banquet rooms that might have contributed heavily to rush-hour traffic.

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“We have compromised as much as we can,” Cole said. “We’ve really gone as far as we can.”

In response, commission President Daniel P. Garcia said he supports the development of a hotel on the site, at the end of a long line of tall office buildings on Wilshire Boulevard. But the size, he said, is too large for the tiny triangular parcel, which now contains a gas station and a car-rental office.

“I think, frankly, it’s too much on too little,” Garcia said. “If this is the final and best solution from (the developer’s) perspective, it ain’t good enough.”

In rejecting the plan, commission members debated whether to turn down all of the zoning actions requested by Murdock or to support a compromise action suggested by a city hearing examiner who took public testimony on the project in April. Hearing examiner Paul Beard recommended the approval of some of the zoning requests. They would enable Murdock to develop a 116-room hotel on the site.

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Garcia at first suggested rejecting the compromise, reasoning that the approvals would be moot because of Murdock’s unwillingness to scale down the project. But, at Cole’s request, the commission ultimately adopted the compromise plan.

Cole declined to say later whether the company would use the zoning approvals to build a smaller project, saying developers had simply taken what they could get. By adopting the compromise, commissioners “approved the concept of a hotel” on the site, Cole said. “The question now is how many rooms it will have and what the height’s going to be. That decision will be made by the City Council.”

Any decision to reduce the size of the project would be left to company President David H. Murdock, Cole said.

Homeowners regarded the commission vote as an important victory.

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“We expected it. We were pleased,” Sandy Brown, vice president of the Holmby-Westwood Homeowners Assn., said in an interview. “We think the project was too large.”

But Laura Lake, vice president of the Westwood Homeowners Assn., expressed more guarded enthusiasm. She pointed out that the council could overrule the commission’s decision.

“We’ve been trounced before” at council meetings, she said. “We hope our councilman can come through. It’s up to Zev.”


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