Council Greenlights Restaurant Rooftop Dining in Business Triangle
Shout it from the rooftops: rooftop dining is coming to the Business Triangle. Actually, per an interim ordinance unanimously approved by the Beverly Hills City Council on Aug. 17, it’s better to remark quietly from the rooftops, so that the noise is not “noticeably audible” from neighboring properties.
The interim ordinance amends the Beverly Hills Municipal Code to allow “rooftop restaurant and rooftop open air dining uses” in the C-3 Commercial Zone, which encompasses most of the Business Triangle. The city defines the zone’s boundaries as Wilshire Boulevard to the southwest, Santa Monica Boulevard to the northwest, and an alley parallel to Crescent Drive to the northeast. With the passage of the ordinance, restaurants in the Triangle will be able to apply to the Community Development Department for a Rooftop Dining Permit.
The interim ordinance will return to the Council as a permanent ordinance in about two months, after minor changes to noise regulations have been incorporated.
By approving the ordinance, the Council also granted a Rooftop Dining Permit to 257 N. Canon Drive, a 44,627-square foot, three-story building next to Beverly Canon Gardens that is currently home to real estate firm Hilton & Hyland, real estate development firm Discovery Land Company, and Julien’s Auctions. When building management applied to convert an existing rooftop lunchroom into a 292-seat deluxe Peruvian-Japanese restaurant called Chotto Matte, the Planning Commission and Community Development Department saw the application as a COVID-safe opportunity to expand upon the success of the OpenBH outdoor dining program, compete with neighboring cities that do allow rooftop restaurant dining, and restore buzz and vibrancy to a touristy, non-residential area.
Before the Aug. 17 Council vote, rooftop dining was limited to hotels, lunchrooms, fitness facilities, and any supporting “ancillary structures.” While many of the city’s prominent hotels, including the Peninsula, Waldorf Astoria, Beverly Hilton, Maybourne, and SIXTY Beverly Hills are able to offer rooftop dining, restaurants not associated with hotels were not.
Over the course of two meetings on June 23 and July 8, the Planning Commission voted to recommend to the Council a draft ordinance to create a review process for rooftop restaurant dining, which is subject to regulations regarding building height, available parking, noise, furniture, and more. The ordinance also created a pilot program stipulating that the next two Rooftop Dining Permits are forwarded to the Planning Commission for review. All applications after that will only need the approval of Community Development Director Ryan Gohlich, who will need to determine that the proposed rooftop “will not adversely affect existing and anticipated development in the vicinity and will promote harmonious development in the area.”
Now that the permit for 257 N. Canon Drive is approved, construction will start in six to nine months, and the Chotto Matte restaurant will open in roughly a year and a half, 257 N. Canon Drive landlord Steven Bohbot told the Courier. The restaurant can seat up to 292 people spread out over 85 tables. It will convert an existing lunchroom into an indoor space that will lead to open space covered by a taupe-colored sail.
The Council enthusiastically approved the ordinance, with Councilmember Lester Friedman calling it “excellent” and Vice Mayor Lili Bosse hailing it as “extraordinary.”
“I think the Planning Commission did an extraordinary job with this,” Bosse said. “I think any sort of potential unintended consequences were mitigated. I love this idea, and from my perspective, this is something I wish we had done even sooner, and we don’t have the concerns about the impacts to the residential area. If this was near the residential area I think we would have a different conversation. As we all said, we have seen the parklets’ success, and I feel very confident that this is also going to be successful.”
The Council approved most building and parking regulations contained in the draft ordinance without much discussion or debate. The Municipal Code previously barred rooftop restaurants due to fears that they would push buildings over the district’s three-story height limit, so the new ordinance stipulates that nothing on the rooftop can exceed 15 feet above the adjacent deck, and tall rooftop structures are positioned in such a way that they are not visible from the streets below. All structures except for furniture must be permanently affixed to the ground, and all rooftops must contain landscape buffers at least 42 inches high permanently affixed around the edges.
The ordinance also requires that off-site parking is available within 750 feet of the site, and available from 6 to 10 p.m on weekdays and operating hours on weekends, with valet services available. 257 N. Canon Drive has 136 spots available in a subterranean parking garage, with five spaces available at nearby 301 N. Canon Drive. The ordinance requires a designated waiting area, and that the rooftop is only available to the public when the restaurant is in operation.
After some debate, the Council requested to overturn the draft ordinance’s ban on singing, dancing, and spoken word. Although the Business Triangle is a busy commercial zone without residential neighbors to disturb, the ordinance contains a number of operational bans to prevent restaurants from becoming too much like nightclubs. The draft ordinance allows for background music, “as long as this music is not noticeably audible beyond the site property lines.” Prior to the final Planning Commission draft, the ordinance banned any sort of live music, to the protests of Bohbot, but a compromise allowed for live music with no more than two performers. That limitation is still in effect after the Council vote.
Council members wondered why the “noticeably audible” standard, which Gohlich said roughly means that neighbors should not be able to make out the lyrics of a song, couldn’t apply to any type of music or performance.
“It’s kind of like if a tree fell and nobody heard it, did the tree really fall?” Bosse said. “For me, it’s more of a question of sound. If there’s a sound impact that is somehow creating an impact that is audible from the street, that is my concern.”
According to Gohlich, that requirement was taken from existing code provisions for indoor entertainment occurring outside the Business Triangle. “It tends to be much more difficult to regulate noise that is coming from people singing or speaking because the volume fluctuates so much when it’s not just an instrument being played, or prerecorded music where you can control the volume,” he said.
Gohlich also clarified that the ban only applies to singing, dancing, and spoken word performed by professional entertainers, so patrons could still sing “Happy Birthday,” to answer one of Councilmember Julian Gold’s questions.
Regardless, all five council members said they felt the restriction was unnecessary, and voted to strike it from the ordinance.
“I was definitely impressed with [the Council’s] ability to take something that was recommended, and then break it down further to see if there’s any more common sense they could add to it, and they successfully did so,” Bohbot told the Courier following the vote. “They said what does it matter if they’re singing, as long as it’s not heard outside?”
Bohbot said he still wishes the Council had also nixed the two performer maximum, but that is the only item from the ordinance he would change. He also noted that he tried to make that point known during the public comment phase, but was told he submitted his comments too late.
Public comment contained letters from Beverly Hills business owners and residents who were just as excited about the ordinance as both the council members and planning commissioners.
“Permitting rooftop dining more widely creates flexibility for properties to create experiences that will attract businesses and visitors to Beverly Hills, and create an interesting environment to shop, eat, visit and work,” Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Johnson wrote in a June 21 letter read on Aug. 17.
“As a third-generation resident of the City of Beverly Hills, I cannot express enough how heavily I support the rooftop dining initiative that you are considering for approval during this evening’s meeting,” wrote Next Beverly Hills Committee member Charles Smith, who noted the committee’s official support for the ordinance. “Passing this measure would spark a new genre of business opportunity in the city that would subsequently improve quality of life and opportunity for residents as well as business owners for years to come.”