Big Silver Lake Project Gets OK; Critics Appeal

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Building and Safety Department has ruled that construction can proceed on a controversial 107-unit apartment complex on Marathon Street in Silver Lake even though the development would exceed the limits set for the area by the community plan.

Last month, the city revoked the building permit in the wake of a building moratorium on projects that violate community plans.

In an effort to overturn the department's new ruling, opponents of the development filed an appeal Tuesday to the Building and Safety Commission, whose members oversee the Building and Safety Department.

Project opponents said they will go to court if necessary to stop the project. They say the hillside site across from Bellevue Park is too small for the proposed building and the development threatens to flood the steep, narrow side streets with traffic.

Progress in Construction Cited

The Building and Safety Department ruled last week that developer Chong Lee had "vested rights." He had made so much progress on his project before the moratorium that the city could not legally block it at this point, the department ruled.

Following guidelines from a state Supreme Court decision, the department said Lee was entitled to have the permit restored because of the construction work he has completed and liabilities incurred--a total of $649,000--before the permit was revoked.

Lee received a building permit in October and workers began laying in foundation caissons and building a retaining wall. But in November, the City Council approved a moratorium--retroactive to October--on any construction in the area that does not agree with the general plan, which bans large apartment complexes in most of Silver Lake and Echo Park. A stop order was then slapped on the project, called Marathon Tower.

The six-month moratorium is designed to give the city time to come up with lot-by-lot zoning to conform, as required by state law, with its community plans. Under current zoning, Lee could build as many as 126 units on his Marathon Street site; under the outlines of the plan for Silver Lake-Echo Park, he could build only 35 units.

The appeal was filed Tuesday by Mary Kelly, a neighborhood resident representing a group of co-op housing owners who live near the site. The appeal alleges that Lee purposefully speeded up construction so he could accrue vested rights while the council was considering a moratorium.

If the appeal loses before the Building and Safety Commission, Kelly said she expects to go to court.

Councilman John Ferraro, the mayoral candidate whose Fourth District includes the Marathon site, will support the appeal when it is heard by the commission, his deputy, Bill Garcia, said. "We are not against new housing, but we are against something of this magnitude," Garcia said. He said a city Transportation Department study predicted significant traffic problems if the project is built as planned.

Ferraro's office has been trying to negotiate with Lee to get him to scale down the number of units. That has been unsuccessful.

Reached at his Olympic Boulevard offices, Lee declined comment on the ruling or the appeal.

Meanwhile, political storms have been swirling around two other construction projects in the Silver Lake-Echo Park area.

In one, a developer has filed for vested rights to continue construction on a proposed 45-unit building on Morton Avenue near Echo Park Avenue. As in the case of Marathon Street, the Morton Avenue building permit was revoked because of the moratorium; the community plan would allow only about 13 units there. The builder, Morton Avenue Associates of Studio City, is awaiting a decision from the Building and Safety Department. Neighborhood opponents say they will appeal to the commission and courts if the permit is restored.

In the other case, the Los Angeles Board of Education passed a resolution Monday asking the City Council to reconsider its recent unanimous vote allowing a 222-unit apartment complex to be built on the grounds of the former Monte Sano Hospital at Glendale Boulevard and Waverly Drive. The school board said the council should consider the effect the building's tenants would have on enrollment at the already overcrowded schools in the neighborhood.

One leader trying to block the project, proposed by Haseko-Calif. Inc., is Bennett Kayser, one of the six candidates running against Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson in the 13th District, which includes much of Silver Lake. Kayser said Stevenson pushed through the City Council earlier this month an exemption to the moratorium for the project without giving neighbors enough time to review the development's possible adverse impact on traffic and schools.

June Cassidy, Stevenson's aide, said the exemption was granted because the developer had already received approval from the city for subsidies that require 20% of the apartments to be set aside for low- or moderate-income tenants. Even though a building permit had not been issued before the moratorium went into effect, the city had made a commitment to the developer, she said.

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