Billionaire developer Alan Casden wants to build 60 luxury condominiums in the heart of Beverly Hills' exclusive shopping district on parking lots between Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys.


Plans filed by Casden Properties Inc. call for two condo projects near the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Peck Drive, with a stretch of retail shops between the two department stores.


Fronting Wilshire, Casden has proposed a five-story building with 12,000 square feet of ground floor shops or restaurants between Saks and Barneys. On top would be 20 condominiums.


Behind that site, another structure would have 40 condominiums above a garage, with enough parking to replace the surface lots and provide additional parking for residents and shoppers.


Saks Inc., which owns the parcels, is in a partnership with Casden Properties on the project, according to Howard Katz, a Casden Properties vice president.


Katz said the development would likely attract buyers looking to downsize from larger homes. Casden, 58, also has expressed interest in owning one of the units.


"Everyone likes the idea of walking down from their unit and being able to walk to streets where there are shops and restaurants," Katz said. "This location puts people in the middle of everything."


It also faces almost certain opposition. The building fronting Wilshire will be 85 feet tall; Beverly Hills residents have fought structures taller than three stories (less than half the proposed height). Residents spent more than $1 million on an unsuccessful campaign to halt construction of a hotel in the city's downtown.


Beverly Hills City Councilman Stephen P. Webb said his phone "hasn't been ringing off the hook" with concerned residents, but he expects calls to start coming in as the project moves forward in the city's approval process. "Until something is in a public hearing, you don't always get a lot of feedback," he said.


Katz anticipates trouble over the proposed height, although he maintains that the site's current zoning allows for an 85-foot-tall retail or commercial building that would generate far more traffic than condominiums.


Casden Properties has asked the city to approve the two buildings separately so that the height of the Wilshire-facing condominiums doesn't detract from a possible approval of the second structure, which hasn't drawn much criticism.


"Because of their interrelationship, we thought it was best to tie their approvals together," Katz said. "All of a sudden it became apparent the height could torment the viability of the entire project."


Webb said he foresees a somewhat shorter building getting done, as long as the finished project blends with the current streetscape of high-end retailers.


Beverly Hills is planning a broader review of Wilshire Boulevard as more developers show an interest in building residential projects along the busy corridor.


Besides the Casden project, Legacy Partners Inc. is proposing a 53-unit condo with 14,000-square feet of ground floor shops and restaurants at 9200 Wilshire Blvd., between Maple and Palm drives.


While the Legacy Partners project has drawn less ire than a prior proposal for a luxury hotel, some residents have expressed a dislike for the concept of combining residential and commercial uses.


Webb, a former Beverly Hills planning commission member who lives near the Legacy Partners project site, said he doesn't see a problem as long as the buildings are well-designed and the community is allowed input.


"There is a place for mixed use on Wilshire Boulevard," he said. As for the Casden project, he said, "I think as long as you have a high-end retail component on the street level, having residential above would work."


Casden Properties compromised with community groups to gain approvals for its redevelopment of Park La Brea and for entitlements for a Westwood Village luxury apartment complex dubbed Palazzo Westwood.


Christopher Thornberg, a senior economist with the UCLA Anderson Forecast, said that despite a glut of expensive condos coming on the market over the next several years and the possibility of a housing bubble, Casden's Beverly Hills project would likely fare well.


"You can't go to West L.A. right now and swing a dead cat without hitting a $1 million condo," Thornberg said. "If he's lucky, he'll get down payments before this bubble breaks."

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