A luxury hotel proposal pits celebrities against celebrities in Benedict Canyon

A proposal to build a luxury hotel in a posh, wooded enclave of Benedict Canyon has pitted some of Los Angeles’ biggest dealmakers, movie executives and celebrities against each other in a bitter battle over the future of one of Los Angeles’ most expensive neighborhoods.

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

A planning commission meeting is scheduled for Tuesday to make a preliminary decision on the zoning change needed to build a commercial development in the city. If it clears that hurdle, it will require final approval from the Los Angeles City Council sometime in the next few months.

Christina Colissimo, an opponent of a proposed luxury hotel in Benedict Canyon, walks her dog on Wanda Park Drive.

Christina Colissimo, an opponent of a proposed luxury hotel in Benedict Canyon, walks her dog on Wanda Park Drive near the project site.

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

On one side of the feud is Gary Safadi, a real estate developer and film 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’s 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, as well as rock musician Gene Simmons. The celebrities or their representatives could not be reached for comment.

Several hundred neighbors have signed testimonials against Safadi’s project, including celebrities such as Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger, TV host Phil McGraw and actors Jacqueline Bisset and Stephanie Powers. The neighborhood — shaded by oak, sycamore and willow trees — is dotted with signs denouncing 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 increased fire potential [and] trucks blocking the few streets we can escape.

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

Opponents say they were outspent by Safadi in his campaign to win City Hall support for the project.

Safady invested nearly $2 million in City Hall lobbyists, according to released city records. Opponents have hired a lobbyist from City Hall and a law firm, spending at least $74,000 on lobbying efforts at City Hall, according to city records.

“It’s ironic that we who have any means are cast as David in this David and Goliath story,” said Mark Levin, a writer, director and producer of television shows and films who opposes the project and lives in adjacent to a 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 named “Hotel Bulgari”.

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

Critics of the project have complained about potential traffic and noise, especially if the hotel will host weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and other social events.

Benedict Canyon Drive is now widely 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 worsen traffic headaches, opponents say.

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

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

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

(Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times)

“We keep things local as much as possible, making the hotel look like it blends into the environment,” Safadi said in an interview.

If the project gets the green light from the City Council, construction would create 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 hillside location, size, height, operations and other important features of the project will not be compatible with and will adversely affect or further impair adjacent properties, the surrounding neighborhood and the public health, welfare and safety,” Koretz said in a 2021 proposal that the council’s land use committee is expected to consider on Tuesday.

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

“With what the developers have gotten away with in this city, how can we rest?” said Cristina Colissimo, a producer and documentary filmmaker who lives near the proposed hotel.

Responding to criticism from opponents, Safadi said his project compares favorably with the nearby luxury Bel-Air Hotel and Beverly Hills Hotel, two larger luxury hotels that draw more visitors than Bulgari and are each just 12 acres of land.

“I’m not here to fool anyone by saying we’ll never have events, but these will be curated events, much smaller in size and very different, and all parking will be on-site,” he said.

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

“We have technical experts working on it to turn it into an eco-luxury hotel with custom homes,” he said.

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