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Luxury hotel proposal pits celebrities against celebrities in Benedict Canyon


A proposal to build a luxury hotel in a swanky, wooded enclave of Benedict Canyon has pitted some of L.A.’s biggest deal makers, movie executives and celebrities against each other in a pitched battle over the future of one of L.A.’s most expensive neighborhoods.

The Beverly Hills-adjacent site of the upscale hotel project — in a neighborhood where home prices range from $3 million to $100 million — is the 33-acre former home of billionaire businessman Kirk Kerkorian. The property was sold in 2015 for $19 million.

A planning committee meeting is scheduled for Tuesday to make a preliminary decision on the zoning change needed to build a commercial project in the residential area. If it clears that hurdle, a final approval would be required from the Los Angeles City Council sometime in the next few months.

On one side of the feud is Gary Safady, a real estate developer and movie producer, who is proposing a hotel project with 58 guest rooms and suites, plus eight private residences, a 10,000-square-foot spa, a gym, a private theater and an eight-seat sushi bar, along with a restaurant. Among the project supporters, according to letters written on behalf of the project, are actors Mark Wahlberg, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Gerard Butler, Orlando Bloom, Adrien Brody and Jon Lovitz, plus rock musician Gene Simmons. The celebrities or their representatives could not be reached for comment.

Several hundred neighbors have signed testimonials in opposition to Safady’s project, including such notables as Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, television host Phil McGraw and actors Jaqueline Bisset and Stefanie Powers. The neighborhood — shaded in oak, sycamore and willow trees — is peppered with signs decrying the hotel project.

“The thought of a hotel here terrifies me,” Bisset wrote in a letter to city officials that included the names of hundreds of other opponents. “Mainly because of the increase potential for fire [and] trucks blocking the few streets we can escape on.”

Opponents created a website, Saveourcanyon.la. Supporters launched Enhanceourcanyon.org.

Opponents say they are being outspent by Safady in his campaign to win City Hall support for the project.

Safady has invested nearly $2 million on City Hall lobbyists, according to city disclosure records. Opponents have hired a City Hall lobbyist and a legal firm, spending at least $74,000 on lobbying activities at City Hall, according to city records.

“It is ironic that we who have some means are put in the David role in this David-and-Goliath story,” said Mark Levin, a writer, director and producer of television shows and movies who opposes the project and lives adjacent to the proposed hotel site on West Oak Pass Road.

The project was originally proposed in 2018 with 99 rooms and branded “The Retreat.” It has since been revised with fewer rooms and dubbed “The Bulgari Hotel.”

If completed, it would be one of eight existing hotels operated by a hospitality firm under LVMH, a French holding company created by the merger of fashion house Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. The maximum occupancy of the hotel would be 715 people, including 130 employees per shift, according to city records.

The critics of the project complain about the potential traffic and noise, especially if the hotel were to host weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other social events.

Benedict Canyon Drive is already heavily used as an alternative to the 405 Freeway between the San Fernando Valley and West Los Angeles. Adding a hotel to the neighborhood would only aggravate the traffic headaches, opponents say.

“A hotel never goes to sleep,” said Robert Mann, an attorney who has lived in the canyon for 35 years and has helped lead the opposition. “You’ll have people coming in and out 24 hours a day.”

Benedict Canyon residents Cristina Colissimo and Robert Mann point out the area where a luxury hotel has been proposed.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – SEPTEMBER 15: Cristina Colissimo and Robert Mann, residents of Benedict Canyon, point out the residential area where a luxury hotel has been proposed on the site of a mansion previously owned by businessman and billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

“We are containing things on site as much as possible, making the hotel seem to blend in with the environment,” Safady said in an interview.

If the project gets a green light from the City Council, the construction would generate a cacophony of chainsaws, bulldozers and cement trucks for nearly ten years, Mann said.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the neighborhood on the City Council, has voiced opposition to the project, as have leading mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso.

“The project’s hillside location, size, height, operations, and other significant features will not be compatible with and will adversely affect or further degrade adjacent properties, the surrounding neighborhood, and public health, welfare, and safety,” Koretz said in a 2021 motion that the council’s land use committee is expected to consider Tuesday.

Despite the opposition to the project by influential elected officials, opponents of the hotel project say they can’t be too confident that the City Council will kill the proposal.

“With what developers have been able to get away with in this town, how can we rest?” said Cristina Colissimo, a producer and director of documentary films who lives near the proposed hotel.

In response to criticism from opponents, Safady said his project compares favorably with the nearby swanky Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel, two larger upscale hotels that draw more visitors than would the Bulgari and are each located on only 12 acres of land.

“I’m not here to mislead anyone to say we will never have events, but these will be curated events, much smaller in size and much different, and all parking will be located on site,” he said.

As for the trees that would be removed to complete the project, Safady said his project will replace the removed trees on a 4-to-1 basis.

“We have technical experts working on it to make it a bespoke eco-luxury hotel with homes,” he said.

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