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The French Market Project
The office-restaurant-retail complex proposed for the old French Market restaurant site received high praise, along with a few reservations about its size and parking plan, from the Design Review subcommittee of West Hollywood’s Planning Commission on Thursday.
The project at 7985 Santa Monica Blvd., at Laurel Avenue, will preserve the popular French Market building, while the area that was the French Market’s parking lot will see a new building erected for retail and restaurant space, with a paseo separating the two structures.
A four-story, 60-foot-tall office building will be built at the rear of the property and above the new building. That office building will be done in a contemporary industrial style with each floor a different size and shape, the result of which looks like “randomly stacked boxes,” as the city’s urban designer, Gwynn Pugh, described it in his design memo. Large terraces will surround much of the office area, which will have either a solid glass or perforated bronze metal façade.
West Hollywood resident Jason Illoulian, who is developing the project through his company, Faring, explained the Center City has a severe shortage of office space, so the project will help activate the area during the day, while the restaurants and a 2,746 square-foot subterranean bar will offer a destination at night.
Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro thought the project was “incredibly well thought out,” and had “design logic.” Commissioner John Altschul said the design was “spectacular,” while Commissioner Sue Buckner said it was “nicely articulated” despite the fact it looked like a series of boxes.
During the public comment period, many people praised the project, several saying they wished their offices were in the building. Resident Tod Hallman called it “magnificent,” while resident Roy Oldenkamp described it as “dynamic architecture.” Resident Lynn Russell called it a “thoughtful project,” saying it was respectful of the past but would inspire the community toward the future.
However, a few people disliked it. Resident Kay MacLaine, who lives nearby, thought it looked like “cargo containers that have been stacked,” while resident John Gale said it was “too much in too little a space.”
Although zoning for the area only allows a maximum height of 45 feet, Faring is requesting permission to build the four floors to 60 feet. Architect Ben Anderson, of the Culver City-based R&A Architecture + Design, explained they plan to rent it as “creative office space,” where 15 feet is the standard height for ceilings. Resident Steve Martin, who liked the project, said the extra height wasn’t especially noticeable since the offices are set back from Santa Monica Boulevard.
However, Altschul and Buckner both expressed doubts about getting that much extra height approved and encouraged reducing the height and massing.
Meanwhile, the Commissioners and the public alike had concerns about the entrance and exit to the three-level underground parking garage being on Laurel Avenue, wondering if the residential street could handle so much extra traffic. Buckner and several others suggested putting the garage entrance on Laurel, but the exit onto Santa Monica Boulevard.
The project’s draft environmental impact report (EIR), due in late August, is expected to address traffic concerns extensively. Altschul said the project should come back to Design Review for a second critique after the draft EIR is out and requested that the meeting be properly noticed so neighbors and residents can attend (mailings regarding Design Review critique sessions are not typically sent out).
Also concerning to some was the fact the zoning code requires 353 parking spaces, but Faring is proposing to only build 269 spaces. Illoulian explained there will be “shared parking” due to distinct daytime and nighttime uses (office workers will use most spaces during the day, but restaurant and bar goers will use the spaces at night). A shared parking analysis will be included in the draft EIR.
Faring plans to not only preserve the French Market building itself, but also do a tribute area honoring the restaurant’s place in local LGBT history. Current plans also call for murals of prominent LGBT figures to be painted on the exterior side walls.
Commissioners and the public alike shared fond memories of dining at the French Market, noting that from its opening in 1973, it was one of the first restaurants openly targeting the LGBT community as its primary clientele. Various gay organizations met there over the years, and many gay political groups held meetings there at a time when the LGBT community was first recognizing it could achieve political power. The restaurant’s outdoor patio was a special amenity since gay people could dine there and be seen from the street, rather than being hidden away in bars/restaurants that had darkened windows or were down long alleyways.
Carvalheiro said preserving the patio was essential for understanding the French Market experience. Meanwhile, Altschul was delighted about the LGBT tribute, feeling that preserving the French Market was far more important for LGBT history than preserving The Factory in the new Robertson Lane hotel-retail project (another project from Faring that was recently approved).
Resident Dan Morin requested the restaurant cater to area residents, noting many people cannot afford the high-end restaurants that have opened in the Center City area in recent years. Illoulian assured that one of the restaurants would be a diner with affordable prices.
7617 Santa Monica Blvd.
The Design Review subcommittee gave mixed reviews to a retail-residential project proposed for the Madison Car Wash site at 7617 Santa Monica Blvd., near Curson Avenue.
The four-story, contemporary-style building will have ground-floor retail/restaurant space with 71 residential units on the three floors above. Using several courtyard areas, the building will set aside 11 units for lower-income residents. It will also have 176 parking spaces in two levels of underground parking.
Commissioner Rogerio Carvalheiro liked the project, calling it a “great building” where all four sides were “well-articulated.” He said it was one of the best buildings that had come to Design Review since he joined the Planning Commission in May 2017.
However, Commissioner John Altschul said it was “acceptable” but “not sensational,” feeling the Santa Monica Boulevard façade was somewhat bland and should be more significant.
Commissioner Sue Buckner agreed the Santa Monica Boulevard façade needed tweaking. She felt the project, from architect Ben Anderson of R&A Architecture + Design, did not match the greatness of Anderson’s design for the French Market project or his 1120 Larrabee St. condominium project which the Planning Commission approved last week.
During the public comment period, several people living nearby favored it. Alex Kehashi, who lives directly behind the project, said he wanted to move in, while George Nagle, who also lives behind the project, said it would invite people to hang out.
Meanwhile, Lynn Russell said the project seemed “repetitive” and very similar to Anderson’s design for the Larrabee Street condo project. She agreed that it needed better articulation.
Resident Victor Omelczenko felt the project was too “box-like” and wished it could somehow pay a tribute to the distinctive Googie style of the Madison Car Wash in the building’s design. He suggested incorporating some of the car wash’s Googie pylons into the design, an idea Altschul liked.
However, Buckner said she could not imagine using any element of the car wash in the design. Carvalheiro suggested a tribute to the distinctive architectural style does not have to be on the site, that a Googie tribute could be done somewhere else in town.
Developed by La Terra Development, the project will have 41 more parking spaces than is required by the zoning code. La Terra president Charles Tourtellotte explained they plan to rent the extra spaces to people living in the neighborhood, which has a shortage of street parking. They’ll also rent spaces to the fire station next door which does not have enough on-site parking for the firemen assigned there.
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