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By Victoria Talbot

The City of Beverly Hills held a public meeting Wednesday to share information on a proposed luxury hotel development on City owned property located between Foothill Road and Maple Drive on Third Street.

Sonnenblick development would like to redevelop 1.4 acres to build a 124-room Auberge Resort Hotel.

An existing building on the site has been home to Lakeshore Entertainment since 2005. The tenant has “several years” remaining on their lease with an option to renew.

The public meeting was a preliminary discussion to evaluate the public’s interests and concerns and discover if there are other preferences for development of the City’s property.

Deputy City Manager David Lightner explained that this was not the usual process for development. Instead, in a very preliminary way, the City Council directed staff to “start the process with a general community meeting to present the idea of a luxury hotel and get the reaction.” About 35 people were in attendance. “Others have expressed interest, L’Ermitage and the Peninsula, in a luxury hotel,” he said.

Asked about the current tenants, Lightner said: “If there is a proposal for a complete redevelopment of the site the City can give notice and provide an exit.”

Developer Bob Sonnenblick explained that the success of L’Ermitage, “interested us in the neighborhood.” The concept is a very high-end luxury boutique hotel. The average daily rates are $790 at Auberge Resorts’ properties in the Napa Valley, Calistoga Ranch, Aspen, and Cabo San Lucas with guests spending an average of $3,200 during their stays.

The Sonnenblick family decided on Auberge Resorts after extensive research. Hotel rooms would be a minimum of 770- square feet. Some will include a private second floor patio and Jacuzzi. The hotel would not exceed 45-feet in height and feature a pool, courtyard, restaurant and bar, with a small spa designed to service hotel guests.

“The gross will go up and the rent will also grow,” said Sonnenblick, explaining that the City would share in the hotel’s success. The rent would be in addition to the 14-percent TOT tax. He calculated the TOT would generate $2.5 million per year in City revenues. The current lease is about $1 million a year. Sonnenblick said the lease would revert back to the City in 55 years.

Residents expressed concern that the parcel represents one of the few undeveloped parcels in the City.

“Long-term leases should be the citizen’s decision. They should vote on this,” said resident Marilyn Gallup.

“I am concerned we are being guided down a path, ” said one person, citing repeated references to the “highest and best use of the land.”

“Is this the best bang for our dollar,” asked another. “Is there something else out there that would be better if we were looking for an investment? Is revenue the most important thing?” asked another.

“The City has looked at these properties and doesn’t have a specific plan,” responded Lightner, stating that the property was zoned for parks, institutions and parking. Redevelopment of this kind would require a zoning change. He reiterated that the meeting represented the most preliminary discussions about the property.