Council Approves Pico Senior Housing : But Homeowners, Businesses Plan Suit Over Density, Loss of Parking

Times Staff Writer

A plan to build 41 units of senior citizens housing above a city parking lot in the Pico-Robertson area has been approved by the Los Angeles City Council, but opponents say they will go to court to stop the project.

The council on Tuesday approved the plan because of "the overriding needs of seniors for housing," said Roberta Goldstone, chief field deputy for Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who championed the project.

'Will Not Be Swayed'

But L. Paul Cook, whose engineering firm was hired by local property owners to fight the housing plan, said that the council was swayed by a "highly emotional issue in an election year." Area merchants and homeowners said that the project would exceed the density allowed under present zoning and would deprive the neighborhood of needed parking.

Cook said that his clients have directed their attorney, Robert Smylie, to prepare a brief challenging the legality of the zoning variance given the project. Copies of Smylie's arguments were submitted to the council and the city attorney, Cook said.

"The court will not be swayed by the emotional issue, it will look at the legal issues," Cook said.

The project is hailed by supporters as a creative solution to the problem of providing affordable housing in areas such as the Westside, where land is very expensive.

Building in the air rights above city land allows for a double use of the property, cutting costs, they say.

Developer Thomas L. Safran plans to build four stories of housing above the street-level public parking lot. The new lot would have 31 spaces, six fewer than in the existing lot.

Fourteen additional parking spaces would be built underground for residents of the seniors project.

Safran said that a tentative agreement with the city calls for him to pay $175,000 for the air rights and $45,000 for the net loss of six parking spaces. The $220,000 from the Clark project and comparable funds from a senior housing development that Menorah Housing Foundation plans to build on Wooster Drive will be used to put a deck on an existing parking lot on Pico, eventually providing 40 more parking spaces than are currently available in the area, he said.

"I am hopeful we can work out the concerns the neighbors have about parking, short of cutting the number of units or changing the site of the project," Safran said. "Those (aspects) are non-negotiable."

Two-Story Neighborhood

Cook said that the density of the project would be 2 1/2 times that allowed in the zone and would exceed prevailing heights in the predominantly two-story neighborhood.

The housing is to be located at 1156-1158 South Clark Drive, a block west of Robertson Boulevard and a block north of Pico Boulevard.

Merchants and homeowners claim that the neighborhood would be adversely affected by removing the parking lot for about a year during construction, and they say the area cannot afford a permanent reduction in the number of parking spaces, even by a few.

The council approved the plan because "the human needs (of the seniors) are certainly more important" than losing a few parking spaces, Goldstone said.

The vote was 11-3, with council members Howard Finn, Joan Milke Flores and Gilbert Lindsay voting against the project and Joel Wachs absent. Lindsay afterward attempted to change his vote, saying he supports the project and voted mistakenly against it, but the official tally remained 11 to 3, according to a clerk of the council.

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