The West Hollywood City Council this week approved a controversial luxury housing complex for senior citizens located on the city's border with Beverly Hills, but nearby homeowners threatened a lawsuit to block it.
The West Hollywood and Beverly Hills homeowners, known as Save Our Residential Environment, already succeeded in delaying the Rossmoor Regency project over the last year by challenging it in court. The group filed an initial suit against West Hollywood in September, 1990, about two months after the council approved the congregate-care facility for the first time.
As a result of that lawsuit, the city was forced to revamp its environmental impact report to include alternative sites for the project, which is proposed for Doheny Drive between Harland and Keith avenues. The original site proved most suitable in part because the developer, Rossmoor Enterprises Inc. of Laguna Hills, owns the property.
From the beginning, the homeowners have contended that the project's five-story height violates standards set by the West Hollywood General Plan, the city's basic land-use and development blueprint. The plan puts a four-story cap on development in residential areas.
Opponents of the project also maintain that the 138-unit building is too massive for the neighborhood and that it will cut off sunlight to nearby homes. In addition, they say the project will bring unwanted traffic to the area.
Although the homeowners' attorney, John Bowman, would not comment on whether a second lawsuit is in the works, some of the homeowners said there is a "strong possibility." If so, the project, now in its fourth year of planning, would face further delays.
"We are not opposed to the concept of this project," said Lester Stein, a spokesman for the homeowners. "We are opposed to the magnitude of it. This will forever change the character of Doheny Drive."
Some West Hollywood residents question whether the facility, where rents will range from $1,850 to $3,500, is appropriate in a city where the vast majority of senior citizens live on low and moderate incomes. More than a dozen residents addressed the council forcefully during Monday night's meeting, with many arguing that the city should focus its efforts on building more low-income housing for seniors.
City officials respond that the project will serve an overlooked segment of the older population--well-off individuals who need help meeting their basic needs. Few alternatives on the Westside exist for such people, officials say. The facility will offer a host of services, including meals, housekeeping and transportation.
"This is an alternate-type of housing for the elderly," said Anne Browning, the city's planning manager.
"We are talking about people in West Hollywood and other cities who own a house or a condominium, but who are approaching old age and don't want to live on their own. We really feel that a specialized market will be served."
Many city officials also believe that the facility is well-suited to the area. They note that many congregate-care residents do not drive, thus lessening the impact of traffic in the neighborhood. Some council members believe that, had the project not been approved, another developer might have eventually proposed condominiums on the site.
"Then there would be more cars, more noise--exactly what the residents don't want," said Councilwoman Babette Lang. "With this project, there will be less disturbance."
The project also will benefit the community, its backers say. Rossmoor spokesman Jeffrey A. Seymour said that 2,000 square feet of office space will be provided to local social-service agencies free of charge. The developer also will contribute $967,750 to the city's affordable-housing trust fund, enough to finance about 28 low-rent apartments, according to Browning.
City officials also argue that opponents of the project are misinformed. They say the project's 70-foot height is consistent with the General Plan, which allows for height and density variances in exchange for public benefits.
City planning officials say that Rossmoor also has modified the design of the building to reduce its physical impact on the neighborhood. For example, courtyards have been added on the north and south sides of the building to help separate the structure from the neighborhood. And the building will be terraced above the fourth floor to set back its highest sections.
Indeed, its supporters note that the project has been scaled down from the original proposal of six stories and 152 units, and the overall height has been reduced by 10 feet. The revised project "reduce(s) the impact of shade and shadow to a level of insignificance," according to planning documents.
City officials say the delay caused by the first lawsuit has allowed Rossmoor to make substantial improvements in the design of the building. Two-bedroom and three-bedroom units have been added, for example, to accommodate residents with excess furniture or medical equipment.
But opponents are unmoved. They still say the city has not scaled back the height of the building enough to reduce its impact. And they believe that the multiroom units will attract even more residents than planned.
"There is nothing more frustrating than a situation like this," said Assistant City Atty. Christi Hogin. "Even though the city has come up with significant mitigating measures and downscaled the project, the residents still want to block it. The real losers are the seniors."
Developed by the company that operates the vast Leisure World communities in Seal Beach and Laguna Hills, the Rossmoor Regency project in West Hollywood is designed for the well-to-do elderly. It is in its fourth year of planning, and continues to meet vigorous opposition from nearby residents in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The residents say the project's height and density are not compatible with the neighborhood, and the development is inappropriate for a city where most elderly are of modest means.