CITY HALL — The Landmarks Commission met the hospitality industry halfway Monday night by agreeing to give protected status to pieces of a luxury hotel, but ignoring a compromise that would have given the property owners more flexibility for changes on the site.
Five commissioners voted to landmark the Fairmont Miramar’s Palisades Building, the parcel on which the entire hotel sits and expanded the designation on the giant Moreton Bay fig tree that serves as the hotel’s centerpiece.
Ocean Avenue LLC., which owns the 85-year-old hotel, pushed for the three designations with a caveat that they get extra flexibility through special rules designed by city staff that defined when the company would have to go back before the Landmarks Commission should changes occur on the property.
The proposal was a compromise between the company’s desire to landmark aspects of the 4.5-acre parcel — the only undivided square block of land remaining in Santa Monica — and the commissioners’ wish to landmark the entire thing, which hotel representatives said could stand in the way of day-to-day hotel operations.
“We reinvest in the hotel all the time, every day,” said Alan Epstein, a representative of Ocean Avenue LLC. “We simply can’t be coming back to the Landmarks Commission every day for approvals to do projects.”
Chair Pro Tem Margaret Bach abstained from the vote, and Commissioner Roger Genser voted no.
Both felt that the designation did not go far enough, expressing concern over the fate of a series of bungalows on the property that have offered refuge for many a starlet and politician over the years. One of the bungalows has been renovated and now serves as a nightclub.
The decision split the difference between Ocean Avenue LLC. and Second Street Corporation, which owns a competing luxury hotel immediately adjacent called the Huntley Hotel and has been fighting a proposed remodel of the Miramar.
The purpose of the proposal was to set the path about what was permissible without formal permission by the Landmarks Commission to alter a designated landmark.
While commissioners put off consideration of the proposal’s specifics until at least February, they also shot down the comments of Huntley Hotel attorney Rick Zbur, who asked that the commission put off landmarking the site until it had further reviewed the historic significance of other aspects of the site, including the bungalows.
In a letter to commissioners, Zbur called the move by Ocean Avenue LLC. a “hide-the-ball” strategy meant to “limit the city’s ability to consider whether other aspects of the property are historically significant.”
He was referring to aspects of the proposal that allowed Ocean Avenue LLC. to demolish the bungalows and two buildings on the site without first going to the Landmarks Commission.
“We don’t understand why they’re asking for the designation of the parcel other than to limit the review of the Palisades Building and the tree,” Zbur told commissioners Monday night.
Zbur told commissioners that, at its heart, the proposal was meant to make way for a proposed development on the site, which is currently working its way through City Hall review.
Epstein demurred on the subject, saying at the meeting that the development was not the subject of Monday night’s hearing.
Commissioners questioned the need for the special regulations, which city staff likened to an arrangement made to facilitate the maintenance of the landmarked Palisades Park.
Commissioner Nina Fresco made a motion to move forward with the designation, but ignore the proposed rules until next month, at which point the commission will form a proposal of its own.