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Hollywood apartment building will not be turned into hotel

Hollywood apartment building will not be turned into hotel
Then-L.A. City Council candidate David Ryu speaks in 2015 at a rally organized by Larry Gross, right, with the Coalition For Economic Survival, for residents of the Villa Carlotta apartment building in Hollywood. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

A hotly debated plan to turn a Hollywood apartment building into a hotel was abruptly scuttled Wednesday in the face of stiff opposition from the local lawmaker who represents the area.

But the future of the Villa Carlotta remains unclear, leaving it in doubt whether former tenants will have any right to return.

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The storied Franklin Avenue building has been the center of protests by tenant activists since a new owner bought it and started planning to convert it into a boutique hotel.

Tenants have already been ejected under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to boot residents from buildings that fall under rent control if the property is being taken off the rental market.

But activists vowed to stop the hotel plans, arguing that Hollywood needs to spare housing amid surging rents. During his campaign last year, City Councilman David Ryu promised to oppose turning the building into a hotel and signed a pledge to oppose a zoning change or any conversion of use for the building.

Tenant activists had planned to voice their concerns at a city hearing Wednesday on the conversion plans. Instead, the building developer announced that the hotel plans had been withdrawn.

"As stewards of this beloved local treasure, we appreciate the importance of Villa Carlotta to its neighbors and the Hollywood community, as well as its place in Los Angeles' history," Gidi Cohen, chief executive of the development company CGI, said in a joint statement issued by Ryu and the company. "We intend to honor and celebrate that legacy by meticulously working to return the building to its original grandeur."

Ryu Chief of Staff Sarah Dusseault said the decision was reached because the councilman had continued to oppose the hotel conversion. She praised CGI for being "open and collaborative."

The company said the building would be renovated over the next year but that its future use was "yet undetermined." Tenant advocates said it remains unclear whether the former tenants will have a right to return since that hinges on what the building owner ultimately decides to do instead.

Activists nonetheless heralded the decision as a victory. "The tenants are still out — but what it means for other tenants is that the city is not going to automatically approve rezoning and changes … to benefit developers that have evicted tenants," said Walt Senterfitt of the L.A. Tenants Union.

Former Villa Carlotta resident Melanie Hughes said that "it feels like a win — for today."

Tenant activists recently lost another fight against converting a Hollywood apartment building into a hotel, this one on Cherokee Avenue. That part of Hollywood is represented by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, whose staff said he didn't support the plan but that there was no legal basis to grant an appeal against it.

"The big difference … is that we had a councilman who was responsive and represented his community," said Sylvie Shain, a former Villa Carlotta resident who opposed the Cherokee plans. Shain argued that the city reaction to such plans shouldn't hinge on where someone lives and who represents them on the council.

Dusseault said Ryu wants to ensure that the Villa Carlotta site is used as housing. Residents had also raised concerns about how a hotel would affect traffic and parking, she said.

Follow me on Twitter at @LATimesEmily

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