If a tree falls in Beverly Hills, it not only makes a sound. It potentially dooms a hillside mansion six years in the making.
Last Thursday, the five-member Planning Commission again deferred approval of a 21,400-square-feet home at 1510 Lexington Road that is affiliated with Los Angeles real estate investor David Taban, according to state of California records.
The project is set to reappear on the agenda of a Oct. 13 meeting. Then, Commission members will, again, discuss how and when five trees were lost on the property and the excavation process to create a basement that Commission Chair Myra Demeter deemed, “violence on the land.”
Cartier delay greenlighted
The Lexington Road project was preceded by Commissioners approving a second one-year extension for construction to start on a retail building for high-end jeweler Cartier.
In August 2018, the Commission approved a three-story edifice at 370 North Rodeo Drive with Richemont North America the developer.
Under city law, that approval lapses after three years unless building permits are obtained. But the developer can ask for up to two one-year extensions.
“Cartier remains committed to the project,” said Debbie Quick, a lawyer at Perkins Coie representing the developers. “As we all learned over the last couple of years sometimes things take a little longer than we expected.”
The Commission had no reservations about another extension, citing complications Richemont had in addressing an earthquake fault line. In January 2018, the California Geological Survey published a map indicating a fault line runs below Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive shopping district.
“Normally when we grant permits, we want the applicant to move expeditiously,” said Commissioner Peter Ostroff. “But this was an unusual situation.”
According to Ostroff, Richemont was in a “Catch-22” about testing to ensure the site is safe to build on without first having to demolish the existing building.
Ostroff spoke with the project’s lawyer, Quick, before the meeting, “And found my conversation to be very persuasive,” he said.
Added Theresa Kaplan, serving as Commissioner for her second meeting, “I have no concerns at all about this project.”
But Commissioners and even a former member Craig Corman, who the Commission invited to share his opinions voiced concerns about a mansion whose official developer is Lexington Prime Estate LLC.
“I am troubled,” said Jeff Wolfe, also at his second meeting.
“I am very troubled,” said commission vice-chair Gary Ross.
“This is pretty serious,” Demeter said.
Commissioners offered three main worries. Was the project in the construction “pipeline” before a 2018 city law limiting basement sizes went into effect? Why didn’t construction start after the project was first approved in 2016? And what happened to those trees?
The home’s 8,104-square-feet basement, and the anticipated over 3,000-cubic-yards of land excavated to build the basement, runs afoul of the 2018 “basement ordinance.”
However, projects approved before 2018 have generally been grandfathered out of such requirements. Ultimately, commissioners decided by a 3-2 margin that 1510 Lexington Road was also in the “pipeline.” But the vote’s bearing on ultimate project approval is unclear.
Why is 1510 Lexington Road finally being revisited in August 2022? Project lawyer Ronald Richards blamed the pandemic. He was promptly rebutted by commission members who pointed out the pandemic was not an issue until 2020.
Richards next asserted the project was in legal limbo due to the basement ordinance. But Corman, the former commissioner, believed otherwise.
“That wasn’t my experience,” Corman said. “Developers were in a rush to build,” if they had a project in the pipeline before the basement ordinance.
If a developer builds with legally granted entitlements, Corman said, they earn a vested right to keep building.
The project seeks to raze five heritage trees. The trees, though, are already no more – with no record of their disappearance.
Demeter, Wolfe and Ostroff asked Russell Linch, a project representative and general contractor, about the trees. But Linch, who said he joined the developed in “late 2016,” could not provide specifics beyond suggesting commissioners reach out to project arborist Lisa Smith.
Demeter expressed reluctance to grant, “Retroactive permission to cut the trees down illegally.”
Absent from the three-hour hearing was the developer themselves.
It is to be determined if the actual building owner, officially registered as Lexington Prime Estate LLC, will appear on Oct. 13.