WILSHIRE BLVD – It’s not just the large developments that neighborhood groups watch.
The Northeast Neighbors association has successfully appealed the designs for a relatively small Citibank on Wilshire Boulevard and forced the developers to revise their plans.
Much has been made of the big projects challenged by residents, most recently the 765,000-square-foot Hines development. Its development agreement was rescinded by City Council after frustrated residents gathered more than 13,000 signatures that would have forced the project to seek voter approval.
Last year, the Citibank developer asked the Architectural Review Board for approval of some design changes and a 545-square foot addition to an existing building. It was approved unanimously by the board in the consent calendar with no discussion from its members or the public.
Less than two weeks later, Northeast Neighbors filed an appeal stating, among other things, that the addition would inhibit the pedestrian thoroughfare along Wilshire.
Last month, Planning Commissioners heard the neighborhood groups’ arguments and agreed, adding critiques of their own.
They voiced opinions about the bright blue colors of the awning, the windows on the corner of the building, the lack of natural materials, and an ATM’s distance from the right-of-way.
In response, developers added a five-foot setback, which, according to residents will make Wilshire more walkable. They ratcheted back the blue and added redwood framing around the entry. In the new designs, the ATM is recessed into the south facade along Wilshire. The windows designs were also changed.
City planners initially recommended that commissioners deny the appeal but upon seeing the new designs, staff acknowledged they were “stronger” and that they improve pedestrian orientation.
“A recessed ATM allows for improved access to the building while providing more space for a patron to stand while utilizing the ATM,” planners said. “This also improves safety, as it pushes patrons off of the sidewalk and out of the right-of-way.”
Commissioners also wanted the developer to scratch support columns next to the sidewalk. The developer kept the columns in the revised proposal, noting that they support the roof.
The commission approved the changes last week in a vote of 6 to 1.
“A better project was created as a result of our efforts, and it is a project that will set the standard for how remodels and redevelopment projects are looked at going forward along Wilshire,” said Northeast Neighbors Chair Amy Aukstikalnis.
Vice Chair Tricia Crane lauded the appeal, calling it a win and a collaboration between the neighborhood group, the developer, and the commission.
“We advanced our vision of a walkable Wilshire and raised the bar in terms of how the esthetics of even small projects should be reviewed,” she said.
Crane was not happy with the public process, claiming that the new designs were posted the same day as the Planning Commission meeting.
“Not only is the result an improved building with a wider sidewalk and a more human scale,” she said in a letter to the neighborhood group, “but the process gave us a forum to advance our vision for East Wilshire Boulevard and our longstanding concerns (many of which were echoed by the Commission) about the late arrival of information for public meetings.”