You’re about a third of the way intoyour term as chair. What have youfound to be the challenges of leadingthe commission so far?
The commission is a fairly cohesivegroup at this point. Everybody workstogether and cooperates with one another.We’re all cordial to each other. We’re ongood terms, so it has been pretty easy.Staff has done good work on the staff reports on a number of the items. So Ihaven’t found it very difficult at all.
You have significant projects comebefore you. Aren’t those challenging toconsider?
We’re always looking to shape devel-opment so that it’s good for the city andgood for the developers but maintainsthe residents’ quality of life. One of theaspects should be respecting the City’sculture and history. We’re always tryingto achieve the balance between qualitydevelopment that’s economically viablebut also benefits the residential commu-nity. That would be the biggest challengethat the commission faces. In general, wespend a great deal of our time trying toachieve that balance.
Tell us how that’s done.
I think it depends on the project andwhere it’s located. But there are alwayscertain things we’re looking out for. We’relooking at minimizing traffic impacts;we’re looking at minimizing parkingimpacts. We’re always looking to try tokeep projects as small as possible andwithin the general plan specifications.
Can you give an example?
Lexus was a big project. The originalproject [proposal] had I think all theservice bays on upper floors that wouldhave openings so that the noise would beable to travel throughout the residentialarea. It also had one level of undergroundparking to house stock and cars in forservice. After working with the applicant,they decided to have two levels of under-ground development and to put the pri-mary noise-generating service bays under-ground. They’re muffled greatly from therest of the neighborhood. The height wasreduced. I think the circulation patternsboth within the facility and within theneighborhood were greatly improved. Weimposed a lot of conditions that will mini-mize impacts to the neighbors immediate-ly south on Maple where there was not aCUP [conditional use permit] in place forthe existing Lexus facility and now therewill be. We’re able to impose conditionsthat were not previously imposed on thatbusiness with respect to [items including]employee parking,valet parking, [and]loading and unload-ing parts and cars.
Tell us about thecommission’sapproach todeveloping theoverlay zonerecommendationfor the GatewayProject nearWilshire andSanta Monicaboulevards.
The [three] appli-cants applied to havetheir properties rezoned for straight C-3commercial and the Planning Commissiondecided that was going to be too impact-ful both in terms of traffic and parkingand the size of the buildings that wouldresult. Then the proposal was to createan overlay zone that would allow the cityto carefully craft a building specification just for those properties. Before we wentforward with that, we thought it was agood idea to get the council’s input sowe asked for and we obtained a liaisoncommittee meeting between Mayor WillieBrien, Councilmember Lili Bosse, andat that time, [then-Chair] Dan Yukelson.The councilmembers gave us directionon the types of things they wanted to seefrom development on these sites. ThePlanning Commission took those param-eters and crafted an overlay zone usingdevelopment standards and objectives thatwere designed to allow the developers toachieve the public benefit and other goals,while also minimizing the impacts of thearea.
How do you think you did?
Given the parameters of the develop-ment we were given in the liaison commit-tee meeting, I think we did a pretty good job. In particular, we came up with a fairlycreative way of structuring a developmentso that if only the T-1 [transportation]lots were developed, it would be a certainsize building, but if the C-3 [commercial]properties fronting Little Santa Monicawere involved in the development, thenthere would be a different size building.It’s a two-tiered approach to the overlayzone, keeping in mind that getting the C-3properties on Little Santa Monica incor-porated into any development in that areawould help us achieve more of the goalsand public benefits that the liaison com-mittee came up with.
Did it surprise you that the CityCouncil did not approve the overlayzone as recommended by yourcommission?
No, I think it’s a process. I think theapplicants recognize it’s a process. Butwe had the input of two councilmembersthrough the liaison committee; we knewwe didn’t have five. These properties havebeen somewhat controversial in the past.I think it was anticipated all five coun-cilmembers would have differing views.I think that it’svery possible thatin the next liaisoncommittee meet-ing [with Brien,Bosse, Vice ChairBrian Rosensteinand myself], we’llget new directionon perhaps reduc-ing the number of public benefits andgoals that we’retrying to achieve,which would alsoallow us to reducethe size of thedevelopment on theproperty while still making the develop-ment economically viable.Interestingly, the two-tiered approachI described earlier seemed to be some-thing that all five members of the citycouncil were interested in exploring. Noone had any real criticism of that generalapproach. I think what they were reallytalking about was how big should thedevelopment be, how much green spaceshould it have, what types of businessesdo we really want to see on those parcels,how much increase in traffic are we reallywilling to allow, and we needed to makesure that we’re protecting the residentialneighborhoods from any negative impactswith respect to traffic and parking.
Do you think everyone is on the samepage in terms of wanting to improvethat area?
I do. I think there is a majority on thecouncil that believes it would be beneficialto develop those properties in some way tomake that area of the city better than it isnow. Where the rubber meets the road iswhat will that development look like?
Commissioner Nan Cole recentlyresigned. Tell us the process forfinding a replacement.
[The process for finding a replacementis] up to the City Council. I think theyprobably want to put somebody on assoon as they can, only because right nowwe have four people, so you can have a2-2 split as opposed to a 3-2 majority onany vote.
Did this come as a surprise?
Yes. I knew she had sold her house. Iknew she had moved at least temporar-ily outside of Beverly Hills, but when I[previously] had a discussion with Nan, Ithought she indicated they might be mov-ing back but they hadn’t decided whatthey wanted to do. I assumed they werelooking for something in Beverly Hillsto move back to. That’s why I said it’s asurprise.
How is this going to affect the dynamicof the commission?
I hope not at all. I hope whoever isappointed works with everyone else on thecommission equally well.
You were an opponent of the Montageproject in 2005. Would you say youapproach development issues from aslow-growth perspective?
I wouldn’t say slow growth because thatsuggests that it’s a numerical issue. Thatreally wasn’t why I opposed the Montageproject. I think every project needs tobe a quality project that makes sense tothe City. With the Montage, my primaryconcern was I didn’t think the financialarrangements that the City had made withthe developer made a lot of sense and Ithink events since the Montage was builthave somewhat validated my concerns.For example, when you look at the origi-nal pro forma for the money that would becoming to the city from the development,there was an assumption the city would bemaking a lot of money from parking oper-ations. My point was we have free parkingup the street more centrally located in thebusiness triangle, why is anybody going topark at the Montage when they can parkfor free up the street? In fact that’s exactlywhat happened. The revenues that wereanticipated to flow from parking at theMontage have not materialized.Initially what happened was after theMontage was approved, the City Councilat that time tried to make [City park-ing structures] a pay-as-you go park-ing operation. There was obviously tre-mendous residential opposition to that asthere should have been. The City Councilbacked off on that. Once two-hour parkingwas maintained up the street, it had to beextended to the Montage. There’s also thefact that at one point the City was goingto participate financially in the sale of thecondominiums on the top two floors of the Montage. Then the City revised thatdeal to where we don’t participate and
Beverly Hills Weekly
HERE’S THE PLAN
The Weekly’s exclusive interview with PlanningCommission Chair Craig CormanBy Melanie Anderson
“We’re always lookingto shape development sothat it’s good for thecity and good for thedevelopers but maintainsthe residents’ qualityof life.”
-- Craig Corman