North Oakhurst Drive Potential Historic District
The Beverly Hills City Council voted 5-0 at a meeting on January 10, 2017, to reject the 31-unit condominium project that would have demolished three contributing structures in the National Register-eligible North Oakhurst Drive Potential Historic District. While the City of Los Angeles had already approved the project, despite a flawed environmental review, Beverly Hills’ approval was also required for the project to move forward. (The properties straddle the boundary of both cities).
An appeal, filed by Concerned Citizens of Beverly Hills/Beverly Grove, was the last opportunity for residents to speak up about the flawed process and demand the preparation of an EIR (environmental impact report) that acknowledges the historic structures and requires consideration of preservation alternatives.
Before it went before the Beverly Hills City Council, the Planning Commission approved the project in October 2016. One year prior, when the Commission initially heard the item, they requested the developer to work with a subcommittee of the Commission to scale back the proposal dramatically, but did not address any concerns about the flawed environmental review.
The properties are located in two jurisdictions, with one-third of the site, including street frontage and facades are located within Beverly Hills and the other two-thirds within Los Angeles. While Los Angeles is serving as the lead agency in reviewing the proposed condominium project, Beverly Hills is acting in the capacity of a responsible agency.
A lawsuit filed by Concerned Citizens of Beverly Hills/Beverly Grove in May 2015, challenging the City of Los Angeles’ failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), was dismissed by a judge.
The City of Los Angeles, acting as the lead agency, evaluated the proposed project through a mitigated negative declaration (MND). The City maintains that the structures are not historic despite substantial evidence identifying them as potential historic resources.
A condominium project was first proposed for 332-336 N. Oakhurst Drive in 2011 by the property’s previous owners, which consisted of a five and six-story residential condominium with 37 units. The City of Los Angeles issued a mitigated negative declaration (MND) on March 28, 2012, as the project’s environmental review, concluding that the project would have no significant impacts to potential historic resources.
The tract map was placed on hold, and new property owner Oakhurst, LLC revised the tract map, proposing a reduced project of a four and five-story condominium with 31 units.
At a public hearing on March 19, 2014, several public speakers, including a representative from Council District 5, expressed concern about the potential historic value of the existing buildings. The applicant volunteered to hire a consultant, and the Advisory Agency placed the case under advisement pending the submittal of a historic resource assessment. The consultant’s report, dated April 21, 2014, concluded that the structures do not meet any criteria for designation as either individual landmarks or contributors to a historic district at the local, state, or national levels.
The City of Beverly Hills, in its capacity as a responsible agency for the proposed project, requested that its own survey team evaluate the properties within the project area and the rest of the block. The May 29, 2014 assessment conducted for Beverly Hills identified 332, 334, and 336 N. Oakhurst Drive as contributing structures to a National Register-eligible historic district. The assessment found the district to be significant as a notable concentration of Period Revival style multi-family residences from the 1930s. Various architects and builders contributed to the district, including prominent local architect Lester G. Scherer, master architect S. Charles Lee, and pioneering female architect Edith Mortensen Northman, who designed 334 and 336 N. Oakhurst Drive.
Beverly Hills planning staff submitted their findings of the historical significance of 332-336 N. Oakhurst Drive to the City of Los Angeles in a letter dated June 11, 2014, and formally requested that an EIR be prepared as mandated by CEQA.
If substantial and compelling evidence that a structure may qualify as a historic resource is submitted into the record, it does not allow for the lead agency to opt-out of preparing an EIR simply because the retained consultant’s findings are contradictory. Instead, if there is substantial evidence, in light of the whole record before the lead agency, that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, an EIR shall be prepared.
The Mitigated Negative Declaration’s (MND) conclusion that the project will have “no impact” on historical resources is flawed, as there is substantial and compelling evidence identifying the structures at 332-336 N. Oakhurst Drive as potential historic resources.
The proposed project will demolish potential historic resources resulting in significant impacts. CEQA calls for the need to identify and consider preservation alternatives through an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Survey work conducted for the City of Beverly Hills identified 332, 334, and 336 N. Oakhurst Drive as contributing structures to a National Register-eligible historic district of Period Revival style multi-family residences.
One of the original architects is Edith Northman, a pioneering female architect in Los Angeles. Northman has been the subject of published, and scholarly research focussed on the significance of her work and career.
If substantial and compelling evidence is submitted into the record that a structure may qualify as a historic resource (known as the fair argument), it does not suffice for the lead agency to opt not to prepare an EIR simply because the retained consultant’s findings are contradictory.
We urge the Beverly Hills City Council to grant the appeal, reject the MND, and require the preparation of an EIR for this project, as clearly mandated under CEQA.