Mark McDermott

Hotel height limits on Sepulveda may rise

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by Mark McDermott

The City Council Tuesday night tentatively agreed to raise height limits for hotels on Sepulveda Boulevard from 30 feet to 40 feet in hopes of attracting new hotel development.

But the move was made with another hope, which was to receive more resident input on the matter, and thus came with a direction to staff to notice all residents adjacent to the city’s main thoroughfare and invite them to weigh in at the first council meeting in March.

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“It does concern me that we don’t have a single person here that’s adjacent to Sepulveda to speak for or against these changes, and they are going to be the ones that are going to be impacted the most,” said Mayor Steve Napolitano.

The proposed ordinance, which in addition to the 40 ft. height would allow another 5 ft. specifically for elevator shafts and HVAC systems, grew out of a yearlong discussion called the Sepulveda Initiatives Planning Project that involved both and an ad hoc committee.

The consensus arrived at was that the city could use more hotels and Sepulveda would be a good place for those hotels.

Bruce Baltin, a hotel consultant, told the council that the math of what the industry requires for a new hotel added up to 45 ft. total. He said first floors are generally public spaces, featuring a restaurant and bar and an 11 or 12 ft. high lobby, minimally, while guest rooms generally feature 9 ft. ceilings.

“You get a roughly four-story building,” he said. “You need that as minimum to justify the cost of land, destruction and the cost of operation. These hotels generally would like to have a minimum of 100 rooms…So you need enough height to get enough rooms onto a site.

I think [45 ft.] is really a minimum height you can work with.”

Local developer Mike Grannis echoed these thoughts, noting his firm, Highland Partners, had handled two sites that could have been hotels —  Gelson’s and El Torito — but the 30 ft. height limit made it infeasible.

“You have an opportunity to change this to get a hotel into the city,” he said. “There is only a certain amount of sites where this is going to work and we’re running out of them. I look at this as an opportunity to try to grab a hotel and a hotel developer.”

The council agreed and unanimously passed the ordinance on first reading while stressing the need for more resident input before its second and final reading in March.

“Sepulveda is zoned for commercial use, and I don’t think it’s the same type of zoning or area as, say, our downtown or North Manhattan,” said Councilperson Amy Howorth. “It’s a different animal. I don’t think these are giant hotels that we’re talking about, but I think it’s incumbent upon us to provide zoning that allows some hotels to consider the option.”

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