“No known roof is as beautiful as the skies above,” Irish sports commentator Mícheál O’Muircheartaigh once said.
He may have been referring to Beverly Hills, where crystal blue skies, mild weather year-round, and the indoor dining limitations of the recent pandemic are all contributing to an open-air dining renaissance.
On July 8, the Planning Commission unanimously and enthusiastically passed a resolution recommending approval of a draft ordinance amending the Beverly Hills Municipal Code to allow restaurants in a zone of the Business Triangle to apply for rooftop dining permits.
If approved by the City Council on a yet-unknown date, the draft ordinance would permit restaurants in the C-3 Commercial Zone–defined as the triangular area in between Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and an alley parallel and northwest of Crescent Drive, or the majority of the Business Triangle–to apply for permits for rooftop restaurants and open-air dining.
The city’s municipal code currently allows hotels, lunchrooms, fitness facilities, and any supporting “ancillary structures” to conduct business on the roof, provided the structures are no higher than 15 feet above the adjacent roof deck. A number of the city’s most prominent hotels, including the Peninsula, Waldorf Astoria, Beverly Hilton, Maybourne, and SIXTY Beverly Hills, all operate rooftop restaurants, treating guests to panoramic city views as they drink and dine.
Restaurants not associated with hotels are currently prohibited atop Business Triangle roofs due to concerns that they will push buildings over the district’s three-story height limit, according to Director of Community Development Ryan Gohlich.
But that may soon change. The Commission was inspired to draft a Zone Text Amendment (ZTA) in response to an application to convert the rooftop of 257 N. Canon Drive into a Japanese Peruvian fusion restaurant called Chotto Matte. On July 8, the Planning Commission also voted unanimously to grant the trendy restaurant, represented by building owner Steve Bohbot, a rooftop dining permit that will go into effect if the City Council approves the recommended ZTA.
Both commissioners and city staff felt that rooftop dining in the touristy, non-residential Business Triangle would generate buzz that might help restaurants more quickly recover from the effects of the pandemic. The Community Development Department found that the project proposal is consistent with the city’s General Plan, and will not adversely affect nearby development, aesthetics, health, or safety.
The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce endorsed the project, writing in a June 21 letter to the Commission that, “Permitting rooftop dining more widely creates flexibility for properties to create experiences that will attract businesses and visitors to Beverly Hills and create an interesting environment to shop, eat, visit, and work.” The Chamber’s letter, signed by President and CEO Todd Johnson, was the only public comment on the proposal.
“I think this is very creative,” Vice Chair Thomas Hudnut said during the June 23 meeting, the first time the project and the proposed ordinance were brought before the Commission. “I think it is taking the ground-level use that so many restaurants were able to enjoy during COVID up to the natural level people might want…It is in fact going to enhance dining opportunities for people within the Business Triangle both at lunch and dinner.”
“The Planning Commission may wish to consider whether or not the regulations could help the restaurant sector recover from the negative impacts of the pandemic, while also providing additional spaces for guests to dine in a COVID-safe environment,” Senior Planner Cindy Gordon said during a June 23 presentation. “From a broader perspective, these changes could also help the restaurant industry expand their operations overall, which may attract more business to the city, and create a unique experience in the city’s Business Triangle.”
Chotto Matte, a deluxe chain with existing locations in London, Miami, and Toronto, would serve a wide array of sushi, sashimi, and cross-cultural treats like “Pollo Nipon” (Spanish for “Japanese chicken”) or Peruvian vegetables with egg fried rice and spicy sesame soy with shrimp, to up to 292 people spread out over 85 tables. If approved, the restaurant would convert an existing rooftop lunchroom into an indoor space that would lead out onto an open space covered only by a taupe-covered sail to provide diners with shade.
Per draft ordinance regulations, most items except for chairs would be bolted down to the rooftop, including a series of planters at least 42 inches high containing either living or nonliving plants (a divisive subject within the Commission: living plants weigh much more, but many thought nonliving plants were not worthy of a Beverly Hills rooftop restaurant).
Commissioners also debated whether or not live music could be played on rooftops. Current regulations ban music that is “noticeably audible beyond site property lines.” Initially, Bohbot’s request for “classy” live music from a violinist or pianist was turned down, but the current draft ordinance allows for quiet live music with no more than two performers that does not consist of any dancing, singing, or spoken word. Even if the violins are ever-so slightly audible from the next building over, it’s likely that it’s an office building that will be empty during evening hours.
The restaurant will provide a designated waiting area not located on the public right of way, as well as 136 subterranean parking spots, with five more within 750 feet of the site, with valet service available.
Many of these additions, including modified regulation on singing, furniture, and size, were decided by an Ad-Hoc Committee consisting of Commissioner Myra Demeter and former Vice Chair Lori Gordon, who rushed to make the changes before her term as commissioner expired June 30. Though Gohlich initially anticipated drafting and incorporating all commission changes for a July 22 vote, Bohbot asked for a decision by the 8th so he could go in front of City Council as quickly as possible, and he got his wish: one of the fastest-ever Planning Commission approvals of such an extensive, game-changing request.
The Commission’s efficiency bodes well for future rooftop applications: the Ad-Hoc Committee ruled that should the City Council approve the draft ordinance; the Planning Commission will need to approve the next two rooftop applications before permanently transferring approval duty to Gohlich and his staff.
“Because it is such a brand-new program, we really should review at least two more projects,” Demeter told the Courier.
“We’ve talked for probably years and years about whether there could be a better utilization of rooftops. There are a lot of great rooftop restaurants in surrounding areas, but we don’t have much in Beverly Hills, and we’ve got the great Southern California weather, so there’s been a long-standing question of whether that’s something the city should pursue, and Mr. Bohbot’s application gave us that opportunity.”