The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

Developer backs down on West Hollywood 'poor door'

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The developer of a proposed large mixed-use building in West Hollywood that planned to restrict tenants living in affordable housing units from accessing the property's pool said Wednesday it will reconsider after encountering strong objections from the city's Community Development Department. 

"The City of West Hollywood previously recommended comparable amenities, which we had agreed to," Brian Lewis, a spokesman for the project, said in a statement. "If the City now feels that shared amenities and access best meet the needs of the residents of the affordable housing units, we are more than willing to accept those conditions of the project."

The West Hollywood planning commission is set to vote on approving the proposed building Thursday, which is being developed by Townscape Partners of Beverly Hills and the New York investment firm Angelo Gordon & Co. A staff report from West Hollywood's Community Development Department recommended against approval because of the restricted pool access. 

"The current configuration has the affordable units looking down on a pool they are prohibited from using," the report said. "This very obvious delineation of amenities runs contrary to West Hollywood’s policies of inclusiveness and equal access for all."

Restricted access – dubbed by critics as a 'poor door' – has become increasingly popular in New York, as The New York Times reported in May:

Developers say amenities are a marketing tool to lure high-paying tenants. And they say rent-regulation rules make offering them to such tenants problematical.

But advocates for tenants view the policies as ways to demoralize people who pay less than the going rate and to not too subtly encourage them to move elsewhere. Although there is no data on how widespread the practice is, both sides agree that it is on the rise.

The proposed project is located 8899 Beverly Boulevard, at what used to house the ICM talent agency. This was the first time a developer planned to offer amenities off-limits to tenants living in affordable housing in Southern California, according to Larry Gross, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

“I could have never thought that this would come to Southern California, let alone West Hollywood,” said Gross. “It's appalling."

Even before the developer proposed walling-off the pool, the 8899 was controversial because of its massive size, according to WEHOville:

Because 8899 Beverly was constructed 31 years before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city, the building as it is does not have to meet current zoning requirements. The zone in which it is located limits a building’s height to three stories, and the 8899 Beverly Building is ten stories high. Also, the floor area of the building is 3.3 times the size of the lot on which it sits. The zoning code requires that new buildings in the area have no more than 1.3 times the square footage of the lot on which they sit. The Townscape proposal would increase the 8899 Beverly building to 6.1 times the square footage of the lot. The addition of housing for low-income people is a way developers are able to get waivers under state law from meeting certain local zoning requirements.

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