Opponents of an agreement allowing hotelier Severyn Ashkenazy to convert four West Hollywood apartment buildings to hotels are calling for the City Council to nullify the plan, claiming that Ashkenazy has failed to comply with it.
“He (Ashkenazy) has once again thumbed his nose at the city, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it,” said Jeanne Dobrin, a leading critic of the controversial settlement last December between city officials and financially troubled Ashkenazy Enterprises Inc.
In exchange for being allowed to convert the buildings to hotels, the company promised to pay the city $4.9 million over the next 20 years, including $1.2 million in delinquent hotel occupancy taxes and penalties.
Angry neighbors of the buildings have objected to what they say is a commercial intrusion into their residential neighborhoods and have denounced the settlement as a “sellout.”
Now some of the same opponents are upset that the company failed to apply for conditional use permits for each of the buildings by March 1, as stipulated in the settlement. The permits are a necessary first step for the buildings to be legally converted to hotels.
No Applications Yet
Mark Winogrond, the city’s community development director, said Wednesday that city officials have not yet received the applications.
In a telephone interview, Ashkenazy said he was unaware of the deadline, adding, “As far as I know, it (the matter) is being processed in an orderly fashion.”
He referred questions to Gary Nielsen, company vice president. Numerous phone calls to Nielsen and company legal counsel Steven Weaver went unreturned.
Although the matter is not considered crucial to the agreement itself, it has caused embarrassment among city officials who reluctantly supported the settlement despite opponents’ allegations that the hotelier could not be trusted to keep his end of the bargain.
“None of us were happy about signing that agreement to begin with,” said Councilman John Heilman, among the three council members who voted for the settlement. He termed the latest development “upsetting” and said the hotelier was “playing with fire.”
Meanwhile, Councilman Paul Koretz, who voted against the plan, took a harsher tone, saying the council should consider overturning the settlement.
“This is part of a familiar pattern of disregard for agreements. We’ve seen it plenty of times before. I don’t want to see the city baby him any longer,” he said, referring to Ashkenazy.
The matter surfaced publicly last week after Dobrin complained to the council that the hotelier had failed to submit the applications and asked that the settlement be rescinded.
Several council members expressed surprise, saying it was the first they had heard of the matter.
However, City Manager Paul Brotzman said an Ashkenazy representative called him the first week of March to say that the company was experiencing a delay in preparing the permit applications. The representative indicated that the applications would be submitted as soon as possible, Brotzman said.
That the company notified the city manager was “inadequate” in Dobrin’s view.
“If they’re looking for some kind of extension, I think they’re looking in the wrong place. I don’t think he (Brotzman) is empowered to grant an extension, not to mention the fact they were already late when they contacted him,” she said.
The agreement, reached after 18 months of negotiations, sanctions hotel status for Le Parc, 733 West 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, when the last of its residential tenants moved out.
The pact provides permanent protection against eviction to about three dozen remaining tenants in three of the buildings and imposes restrictions aimed at reducing noise and congestion around the hotels.
A fifth property, 949 Larrabbee St., is to be operated as a hotel exclusively for guests who stay for at least 30 days.
The $4.9 million is to be paid in 19 annual installments of $250,000 and a final payment of $180,000, with most of the money earmarked to provide affordable housing. It includes $1.2 million that the company owes West Hollywood in unpaid hotel occupancy taxes and penalties.
As part of the deal, the pact also allows Ashkenazy permission to go ahead with a long-stalled effort to convert the unfinished ninth floor of his swank Bel Age Hotel to luxury suites and to construct two “presidential suites” in the hotel’s rooftop penthouse.
The ninth floor has been used as storage space since the 198-suite hotel opened shortly before West Hollywood became a city, after the county, accusing Ashkenazy of exceeding the height limit of the original plan, prevented him from developing the floor for occupancy.
Ashkenazy Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in 1986. Since then, it sold the Valadon to two Illinois savings and loans that were among its creditors, although the company continues to manage it.
Some city officials who privately insist that the company’s failure to meet the deadline is of little real importance have expressed dismay at what they view as another in a series of public relations gaffes on its part.
Last September, amid a spirited public debate over whether the council should approve the settlement, Ashkenazy chose to go ahead with a gala “grand opening” of the Valadon as a hotel.
To add insult to injury, as far as city officials were concerned, his representatives sent invitations to Brotzman and each of the council members, and even invited Mayor Helen Albert to cut the ceremonial ribbon.
She and the other council members declined to attend.
One city official who did not want to be identified compared the matter of the permit applications to the Valadon incident, saying, “I think you can say this is another one of those gaffes.”