The Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday unanimously denied an appeal that sought to prevent Equinox health club from moving into an office building at 9465 Wilshire Blvd.
The building currently hosts Bank of America on the ground floor, but the bank intends to move across the street, opening up the opportunity for Equinox to establish a central-city presence.
"I believe that the Equinox project is particularly fitting for the Beverly Hills image," Councilman Julian Gold said. "The filling of the space in the Bank of America building would be a good thing, certainly at a time when we have so many buildings that are not full."
The Planning Commission and city staffers' review process that began in June "has been more than robust," the newly elected councilman said.
"I think it's a good project," Vice Mayor William Brien agreed. "While there is some net increase in traffic in the area as a result of this project, I think the parking issue, which is a bigger issue, is well mitigated ... especially the additional free parking on weekends and the two-hour validated parking during the day."
Parking for Equinox will be located at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) building, formerly the William Morris building, at 245 N. Beverly Drive.
Attorney Todd Elliott spoke on behalf of the appellant, an organization called Neighbors Organized to Protect the Environment. Elliott was hired by Ron and Sharon Gart, who are affiliated with N.O.P.E.
Appellants challenged city studies assessing traffic and parking impacts that will result when the three-floor, 37,000-square-foot facility opens for business. Elliott disputed Equinox and city staffers' claim that peak hours of patronage wouldn't coincide with regular business hours, potentially creating a lack of parking spots for Equinox members.
"The Bank of America building tenants stay much later than 5 p.m.," Elliott said. "The fitness use is primarily a daytime use and will cause a parking shortage and a backup onto Beverly Drive."
Council members, the Planning Commission and city staff, however, supported the project based on conditions that include two hours of free parking for Equinox members on weekdays and three free hours on weekends, free on-site parking for employees and a total membership limit of 4,500 people.
"Staff does not believe there will be a severe shortage of parking spaces," said Ryan Gohlich, associate planner for the city's Community Development Department. "The analysis provided by the appellant is based on generalized assumptions that to staff's knowledge are not supported by any technical documentation."
According to Gohlich, the parking study for the project "was prepared by a licensed transportation engineer, was peer reviewed by the city's own transportation engineer, and all of the parties involved agree that it was an accurate assessment of the parking demand for the building."
Opponents of the project, which will add Equinox's modern look to a building built in 1960, also claim city staffers' recommendation did not take into account the building's historic status. The project calls for facade alteration to incorporate the Equinox brand name by marking the club's entrances on Wilshire Boulevard and Beverly Drive. The Beverly Drive entrance will be flanked by a new cafe and retail store.
"In April 2007 this city conducted a historic resources report which identified a potential post-World War II thematic grouping of commercial buildings on the Wilshire corridor of which the subject property was found to be a contributor," Elliott said.
Gohlich’s response to Elliott's assertion was that "based on staff's review, the subject property is at most a contributor to a potential [historic] district and is not a stand-alone resource by itself." Brien noted that the project's physical changes to the building affect "only roughly 100 square feet of street front, and it does add a publicly available area for retail ... and for food."
Councilwoman Lili Bosse recused herself from the hearing and vote because she approved the Equinox project while head of the Planning Commission before winning a council seat last month.
Jason Seligman, an Equinox member who works in Beverly Hills, was among locals who weighed in on the issue. Both sides presented numerous letters for and against the project, but only supporters came to speak in council chambers.
"The city is a beautiful city. My question is, why can't Equinox be there? All their other locations are beautiful inside and out," Seligman said. "I feel good, I feel happy when I leave the gym. As [former] Mayor Delshad had previously said, that's what the city of Beverly Hills does for everybody. Why can't it be there?"
Equinox is a New York-based national fitness chain that has nine locations in the Los Angeles area, including facilities in West Hollywood, Century City and Santa Monica.
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