The Beverly Hills Planning Commission publicly reviewed the proposed Cheval Blanc luxury hotel project during a Feb. 10 Special Meeting. The Commission looked at the final draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which was revised to address feedback from a previous meeting in October. In addition to the EIR, the Commission reviewed potential traffic impacts of the development, and considered possible zoning changes that would allow the 109 guest room hotel to be built on South Santa Monica Boulevard between Rodeo and Beverly Drives. The meeting was adjourned with no resolutions yet made and is set to continue on Feb. 24.
Public comments at the meeting were largely in favor of the project, though neighboring businesses, residents and legislative advocates raised concerns about traffic impacts, building size and affordable housing density. Spokespersons from LVMH Moe?t Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the parent company behind Cheval Blanc, said they have taken all comments into consideration and will address them before the next hearing.
A proposed reconfiguration of the alley between Beverly and Rodeo Drives was a top traffic issue raised by neighboring businesses during the Feb. 10 meeting. The proposal would move the alley entrance from South Santa Monica Boulevard to Beverly Drive as the current alley runs through what would become the middle of the hotel. The redesign would turn the straight north-south alley into an alley with an east-west leg.
Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Herme?s and other businesses say the alley is used by their VIP clients as a main entrance to their shops, and the proposed alley reconfiguration will impede luxury services they provide.
Similar worries about obstructing deliveries in the alley were raised at the October Planning Commission hearing. Cheval Blanc has since adapted the alley design to allow large trucks to maneuver more easily.
“We appreciate the changes that have been made to the plan to attempt to address some of the traffic related concerns. However, we believe that there are still issues,” said Gabriella Romo, Store Director at Giorgio Armani. “There will inevitably be delays and blockages of the alley that will prevent our clients from reaching our location promptly as they expect.”
The submitted designs also call for a portion of the hotel to overhang above the alley entrance at Beverly Drive, which neighboring businesses said would look like a private alley entrance for the hotel and confuse their clients. The shops are asking for alternative designs to make the alley easier to navigate and easier to spot from the road.
“These are our most important customers, and we know their experience will be hindered due to this configuration,” said Samantha Petersen, a spokesperson with Herme?s Beverly Hills. “It will be difficult to find the alley entrance at first and it won’t be as fast and efficient as it is now.”
Petersen also said she worries construction noise and traffic will interfere with business and special events and asked for more consideration to offset these effects. The Cheval Blanc team that attended the Commission hearing declined the opportunity for public rebuttal, saying they would discuss these concerns internally first and address them at a later date.
Commissioner Peter Ostroff instructed both sides of the alley debate to work together to reach an agreement independently of City Hall.
“There are a couple of things that stand out that need to get resolved, the first one is the use of the alley,” Ostroff told the Cheval Blanc representatives. “We don’t want to have any more debates here. With the alley, you’re going to have a very close relationship with all of the stores on Rodeo and Beverly and some of them have come and talked about issues that are of concern to them, and it almost sounds like you guys haven’t been talking to each other. I don’t know whether that’s true or not and I don’t care. But now it’s time to get together.”
Ostroff also urged the applicants to create incentives to make it easier for Beverly Hills residents to join the hotel’s planned 500-member private club.
“Our lookout is for our city, so think about what you might offer in that regard,” Ostroff said.
Some residents indicated they are worried that the size of the hotel will take away from the aesthetic of Rodeo Drive.
“It’s not lost on me that LVMH will bring a lot of money into Beverly Hills,” said 53-year resident Thomas Zoline. “But I will say that a nine-story building on that location will destroy the sense of the village and the community that makes up Beverly Hills.”
The design calls for a four-story facade on Rodeo Drive that will step up to nine stories toward the southeast. Cheval Blanc designers indicated that it is designed so the top floors are not visible from Rodeo Drive street-level and will be mostly unseen from the residences north of Santa Monica Boulevard. Architect Peter Marino said ensuring that the Rodeo Drive facade was in keeping with the rest of the street was one of his top considerations when designing the building.
A representative with hospitality workers union UNITE HERE Local 11 urged the city to consider adding more affordable housing before they add more hospitality space, saying workers cannot afford to live in Beverly Hills and another hotel will further tip the “job-to-housing imbalance” in the city. Two separate letters that were signed by a total of 39 people were submitted into public comments, echoing the call for affordable housing.
Ostroff gave little weight to these comments as the parcels where the hotel is planned are not fit for residential zoning.
The Commission’s input and public comment will help shape the proposal before it reaches Beverly Hills City Council for final approval. The Commission is expected to make recommendations to the Council regarding the project’s EIR, design and use standards and special events limitations. It will also weigh in on an application to amend the city code to allow the multi-parcel location to be zoned as one multi-use commercial site. The new zoning would change the city code and parcel map to allow the street-level dining and retail that is part of the design proposal.
Thus far in the approval process, which has included two hearings before the Planning Commission, public comment continues to be positive overall, with many expecting it to revitalize the north end of Rodeo Drive. This includes Giorgio Armani and other shops who have expressed conditional support for a Cheval Blanc at the location, despite their opposition to some details.
“I think [Cheval Blanc] would do a fabulous job here,” said legacy resident Robbie Anderson whose grandparents founded the Beverly Hills Hotel. “I think Rodeo Drive needs a shot in the arm. You know, all this marching and stuff put a taint on it. This, I believe, would bring us back into the future.”
“I live very close to the project, and I have to tell you that if anyone should be concerned, it could be us that live nearby, and I’m actually looking forward to a project of this level showing up in our community,” said Former Traffic and Parking Commission Chair Nooshin Meshkaty. “I think our merchants will benefit greatly from it. It’s about time for us to have a project that will bring it all together.”