Historic Hollywood Apartments Spared From Redevelopment Plan

Activists are calling it a victory for tenants' rights and affordable housing in Los Angeles

A developer has dropped plans to turn a historic Hollywood apartment building into a boutique hotel, after opposition from a city councilman and community activists.

Councilman David Ryu announced Monday that the owner of the Villa Carlotta decided to withdraw his application to have the formerly rent-controlled apartment building converted into a 50-unit hotel.

"I am grateful for the developer's decision," Ryu said in a statement. "Our goal is to create and preserve great neighborhoods."

The 1926 building was purchased in 2014 by a developer, CGI Strategies, with plans to convert the building at 5959 Franklin Ave. into a boutique hotel. That year, CGI filed to have the Carlotta's tenants evicted under the Ellis Act, a California law that allows property owners to evict tenants from rent-controlled apartments if they plan to convert the building for another use.

The last of the Carlotta's tenants moved out in June, after nearly two and a half years of fighting their evictions.

Activists said the decision to withdraw the hotel plans is a victory for tenants' rights.

"This is a big win for tenant activists and for people in the city whose housing is threatened by the incentive to convert it to another use," said Sylvie Shain, a former tenant of the Carlotta and housing activist. "It sends a message about taking rent-stabilized units off the market."

Shain said that message is an important one, especially after a similar project to turn another formerly rent-controlled apartment building into a hotel was given the go-ahead by the City Council.

Down the street from the Villa Carlotta, the owner of the building at 1850 Cherokee Ave. filed an application last year to turn the vacant building into a hotel. Shain gave up fighting her own eviction so she could focus her efforts on appealing that project.

The tenants had been evicted through the Ellis Act in 2013, after the owner filed plans to demolish the building and replace it with condominiums. That proposal fell through during the recession. The new plan, to restore the building and turn it into a hotel, caught the attention of community activists, who said a hotel would be a detriment to the mostly-residential neighborhood near Hollywood and Highland.

The 1850 Cherokee project, though a few blocks away from the Villa Carlotta, falls into Councilman Mitch O'Farrell's district. O'Farrell's representatives told the City Planning and Land Use Management Committee in June that the proposal was "not a project that the councilman supports, but it is one that he inherited."

The City Council ultimately decided to let the project go through, despite questions about whether the former tenants received proper relocation assistance, which they are entitled to under the Ellis Act.

Dana Sayles, whose consulting company Three6ixty was involved in both projects, cited the buildings' zoning designations as a major difference between them.

The zoning for 1850 Cherokee already allowed for a hotel project, without the City Council making major changes. The Carlotta, however, would have required a completely new zoning designation.

"It takes legislative action to approve that," Sayles said.

The Villa Carlotta's fate is still unclear. CGI's owner, Gidi Cohen, said they will continue renovations that are already underway, but the building's future use is undetermined.

"It will be determined through a process with the council office," a representative for CGI said. "We have work to do."

Sarah Dusseault, a representative for Ryu's office, said the councilman will be a part of those conversations.

"We would like to sit down with them and think through what would be next," Dusseault said. "The councilman would like to see it return as housing."

Shain said she hopes Ryu holds strong in his opposition to zone changes at the Villa Carlotta.

"It means so much that Ryu has so far maintained his promise," Shain said. "In order to reduce the incentive to evict people under the Ellis [Act] or otherwise, it is important to send a clear message that conversions of any type will not receive support."

Cohen could make plans to convert the Carlotta to condos, which would still leave the former tenants displaced.

"As stewards of this beloved local treasure," Cohen said in a statement, "we appreciate the importance of Villa Carlotta to its neighbors and the Hollywood community... We intend to honor and celebrate that legacy by meticulously working to return the building to its original grandeur."

Sayles praised her client for their decision to reassess the project.

"I appreciate that I have a client [who] was able to hear what [the community] had to say and walk away from a substantial investment," she said. "That is rare."

Ultimately, Shain said she's relieved that her former home won't become a hotel. She just wishes the developer would have decided that before she moved out 18 days ago.

"That's the part that's frustrating," she said. "Couldn't you have figured this out three weeks ago?"

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