The latest chapter in a six-year Hollywood development saga starts next week when money-bags real estate conglomerate CIM Group will reportedly break ground on a controversial project that has already eaten up millions of dollars of city money in a protracted legal fight with perturbed neighbors.
In 2008, Sunset Gordon Mixed-Use Project set a record for the number of entitlements--17--approved by the Department of City Planning.
Critics said a project in need of that many planing and zoning exceptions was ill-conceived and wrong for the area, but the Community Redevelopment Agency forged ahead, not only pledging $17.5 million in support of the project, but advancing the developer $3.668 million to fight local opponents in court.
It all started back in 2006, when Portland-based Gerding Edlen bought a 1.7-acre parcel on Sunset Boulevard at Gordon Street, home to a shuttered Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant, for a reported $20 million.
The developer went about securing the necessary champions (city councilman and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti chief among them) to help construct at 23-story tower with 311 residential units, 40,000 square feet of office space, 13,500 square feet of retail space, and a park.
The entitlements granted to Sunset Gordon in 2008 included exceptions for:
- Height: While other buildings in the area are restricted to 45 feet, Sunset Gordon was approved at more than five times that size--260 feet tall.
- Density: Sunset Gordon was allowed to have lot units of 400 square feet each--34 percent denser than the 600 square feet per lot unit allowed by law.
- Zoning: Department of City Planning allowed the property's zoning to be changed from "Highway Oriented Commercial" to "Regional Center Commercial."
- Residential Parking: Sunset Gordon was approved for 22 percent less than the required by law.
- Commercial Parking: Sunset Gordon was approved for 39 percent less than required by law.
- Open Space: Sunset Gordon was approved with just 81.5 percent of the amount required by law.
- Signage: The project was approved with two controversial "supergraphics," giant vinyl advertisements plastered to the sides of a building.
"This was as sweetheart of a sweetheart deal as you could ever have," says neighborhood crusader Doug Haines who, with the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association, spearheaded a lawsuit to prevent the project from going through after it received the green light from City Council.
"We took it to court and the CRA and the City Council gave the developer an advance on $3.668 million for the park to fight us in court--their own constituents," Haines says.
The lawsuit eventually forced Gerding Edlen to file a notice of default on the $9 million land loan. (Last year a representative from Washington Holdings, the original lender on the project, gave this Scooby-Doo-villain-esque testimony to LA Curbed: "This tower would have been built by now if it weren't for the lawsuit by Doug Haines.")
Sunset Gordon and its 17 entitlements were purchased last year by CIM Group, a company that already had significant holdings in the area, including the Hollywood and Highland Center.
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Haines recently used a public records request to review email correspondence between Garcetti's office and CIM Group that he says suggest construction is set to begin next Monday, February 27. Karen Diehl, a representative for CIM Group, says there is no formal groundbreaking planned. Meanwhile, questions still swirl about the fate of the redevelopment funds pledged to Sunset Gordon as the redevelopment agency itself is dismantled.
Haines claims the emails also suggest that CIM is now seeking clearance to demolish the entire property, saving just the building's fireplace--a fact that, oddly enough, gives him hope.
"This project had the most entitlements in history of the city of Los Angeles. They were based though, in large part, on the retention at least the facade of the Old Spaghetti Factory building. It's our contention," Haines says, "if the variances on based on that, that they can't tear it down."