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Conversion of W. Hollywood Apartments to Hotels OKd

Times Staff Writer

The West Hollywood City Council approved an agreement that will allow hotelier Severyn Ashkenazy to convert four apartment complexes into hotels, despite scathing testimony from residents who called him a “terrorist,” a “liar” and “little better than a thug.”

The plan, approved Monday by a 3-2 vote, provides permanent protection against eviction to about three dozen remaining tenants of the complexes and imposes restrictions aimed at reducing noise and congestion around the hotels.

Ashkenazy, who also operates the Bel Age and Mondrian hotels, also agreed to pay the city $4.9 million over the next 20 years as the price for the city’s approval of conversion, including $1.2 million in unpaid hotel occupancy taxes and penalties.

Residents who testified at the meeting were infuriated by the approval, saying greed and fear of a lawsuit motivated the council.

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“You’re willing to prostitute this city for a promise to pay back taxes,” Ken Savage told the council. "(Ashkenazy) owes the money, point blank. Let’s take it to a judge and enjoy justice.”

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Other residents testified that Ashkenazy could not be trusted to comply with all the conditions of the agreement, which places time constraints on truck deliveries to the hotels, restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol and guidelines for special events.

“There is nothing in his past actions to suggest he will honor the commitments he makes in this settlement. He always shows a disregard for the laws of this city,” said resident Janet Bridgers. “Negotiating with terrorists does not work. It only invites more terrorism.”

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Resident Jeanne Dobrin said, "(Ashkenazy) is a little better than a thug. He is a liar and is trouble from the word go. Everything with him is done through threats and intimidation.”

Other conditions of the agreement require the hotelier to provide parking for all his employees and to keep the kitchen doors of the hotel closed at all times.

To assure the conditions are complied with, the company agreed to post a cash bond with the city to cover any fine or enforcement costs. Council staff had proposed a $25,000 bond, but the council voted to increase it to $100,000.

City Councilman Paul Koretz, who voted against the agreement, said he does not believe Ashkenazy will honor the tenant protection conditions.

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“I’m not sure how we could protect the tenants without this agreement, but I’m also not sure he won’t find a subtle form of harassment to force the tenants from their homes,” Koretz said.

The buildings approved for hotel status include Le Parc, 733 W. Knoll Drive; Le Dufy, 1000 Westmount Drive; Le Reve, 8822 Cynthia St., and Valadon, 900 Hammond St. Le Parc has operated as a hotel since 1979, after all its tenants moved out, company officials said.

Since its incorporation four years ago, the city has opposed Ashkenazy’s attempts to convert the apartments to small luxury hotels, claiming the conversions are illegal.

The city came close to an agreement with the developer in September, but backed down after widespread public opposition.

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In an interview, Ashkenazy said he had no qualms about taking the city to court over the conversions if the agreement was not negotiated.

“I was advised by all my attorneys that the city had no legal position to fight us and that the city would not prevail in any court on this issue,” he said. “They created this controversy, and we thought we’d just play along instead of taking an adversarial role. If the city behaves reasonably, we will have a deal.”

Councilman Steve Schulte, who also opposed the agreement, said he thinks the city should have called Ashkenazy’s bluff and forced him to negotiate an even stricter deal.

Schulte was particularly opposed to a condition in the agreement that will allow Ashenazy to be able to build luxury suites in the unfinished ninth floor of the Bel Age and two “presidential suites” in the rooftop penthouse.

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The ninth floor has been used as storage space since the 198-suite hotel opened shortly before the city’s incorporation, after the county accused Ashkenazy of exceeding height limits of the original plan and prevented him from developing the floor for occupancy.

“I think that if we had rejected the agreement, we could have gotten (Ashkenazy) to come back to the table,” Schulte said. “I think the agreement we got is good, but it needs to be tougher.


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