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Residents fight exclusive British SoHo House's arrival on Sunset Strip

August 15, 2009 |  9:16 am

The 7,000-square-foot penthouse on Sunset Boulevard was transformed from a gutted residence to an English private club that is expected to draw a movie industry crowd.

It’s being billed as Los Angeles’ most exclusive new club.

But some neighbors in West Hollywood and Beverly Hills don’t want the late-night carousing, traffic jams or paparazzi they fear will accompany the opening of the Los Angeles chapter of the decidedly British, member’s-only SoHo House.

More than 80 residents have signed an appeal by the West Hollywood-Beverly Hills Neighborhood Assn. against allowing SoHo House to move into the top two floors of Luckman Plaza at 9200 Sunset Blvd.

The West Hollywood City Council will consider their objections at its Monday meeting. The club, which has an outpost in Manhattan, caters to an A-list crowd. When it rented the space for a week of Oscars parties last year, Matt Dillon, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher dropped by the English manor-inspired penthouse -- replete with Chesterfield sofas and Oriental carpets.

“The helicopters now are bad, but the paparazzi are going to be all over the place,” said Martin Gordon, a doctor who has lived a few houses away for 21 years. “This is a family neighborhood.”

Steven Afriat, a consultant representing the club, said the purpose of SoHo House is to provide leading figures in the entertainment industry an escape from all that.

“This is not a nightclub,” he said. “People aren’t going there to be entertained. They are going there to meet and to relax.”

The West Hollywood Planning Commission cleared the way for the development on July 29 when it approved a request by the building’s owners, the Mani Brothers Real Estate Group, to convert the space into a private social club with a restaurant and a rooftop reflecting pool.

City officials want to stimulate business on the west end of the Sunset Strip. John Keho, the city’s planning manager, said the club would create jobs; generate business for local restaurants, shops and hotels; and help position the landmark building as a gateway to West Hollywood.

The project has drawn support from some high-profile residents, including actress Felicity Huffman and musician Elton John, Afriat said.

“It’s going to bring, in my opinion, new energy to the city of West Hollywood,” said Paul Cooper, an executive with the Universal Music Group who lives a block away from Luckman Plaza.

However, Cooper said he shares neighbors’ concerns about the noise and traffic that could be generated.

“It has always been an office building, which was fine,” said Deedy Oberman, who has lived in an adjacent house for 36 years. “Office hours are daytime hours and not over the weekend.” But she said it is not the sort of area for late-night music, lights and drinking.

“I’ve got seven grandchildren, and they stay with me,” she said.

Although the building is located at the tip of the Sunset Strip, it is surrounded on three sides by quiet residential areas, said attorney Doug Carstens, who represents the neighborhood association in the appeal against the Planning Commission.

He argued that city officials underestimated the potential effects of the club and did not provide sufficient safeguards. The proposal has also drawn opposition from Beverly Hills Mayor Nancy Krasne, who underlined that it does not only affect the city of West Hollywood.

“The traffic is already backed up on Sunset to Hillcrest in Beverly Hills and it bottlenecks in West Hollywood. This can only make travel on Sunset much worse,” she said in e-mailed comments.

“Now we add valets running across Sunset Boulevard to retrieve cars, cars trying to merge into Sunset with heavy traffic, amplified music on the roof of SoHo House on unknown days or evenings ... and the list goes on," Krasne said.

Jeffrey Seymour, a consultant who represents the Mani Brothers, said the building’s owners and tenants had worked hard with city officials to limit the effect on their neighbors.

A 6 1/2-foot glass wall will enclose the top of the building, he said. There will be no live music on the rooftop terrace without a special event permit. Only club staff will use the parking spaces located in a structure across the street; members will leave their cars in the Luckman building’s own parking area and enter the club through a dedicated elevator.

And no more than 300 people will be allowed inside the club at any time. The Planning Commission decided that the club could operate from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m., but use of the outdoor space must stop at midnight. Alcohol sales, service and consumption will be permitted until 1:30 a.m. inside and 11:30 p.m. outside.

Mani Brothers is appealing the restrictions on alcohol consumption, arguing that it is impractical to expect servers to take away glasses from patrons a half-hour before closing.

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photo: The 7,000-square-foot penthouse on Sunset Boulevard was transformed from a gutted residence to an English private club that is expected to draw a movie industry crowd. Credit: Los Angeles Times