Opponents of Echo Park Apartments Fail to Win Injunction to Prevent Construction

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has refused to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented continued construction of a controversial Echo Park apartment building.

The 45-unit project, in the 1800 block of Morton Avenue near Echo Park Avenue, has met strong opposition from neighbors because it does not comply with the recently adopted community plan for the region.

Under the community plan, the developer, Morton Avenue Associates of Studio City, would be required to follow guidelines restricting the project to 12 units. Residents contend that a 45-unit building would clog the narrow streets of the hillside area with traffic and add students to already crowded schools, and could encourage unwanted development.

But Superior Court Judge John Cole, in refusing to issue the injunction Friday, warned the developer that he would be proceeding at his own risk for the next two months. Cole has scheduled a July 24 court date to decide whether Los Angeles acted wrongly in granting a building permit for the one-acre site.

Moratorium Takes Effect

At issue is a City Council-approved moratorium on building in the area that took effect Dec. 28, about five weeks after Morton Avenue Associates obtained a building permit from the city.

Barbara Blinderman, an attorney hired by area residents, said the city erred in issuing the permit because officials knew of the upcoming sixth-month moratorium, during which time city planners could work to complete lot-by-lot zoning codes for the area.

But Allan Cooper, an attorney for Morton Avenue Associates, said this week that the permit is valid "simply because we got it before the time the moratorium went into effect."

Cooper also said that, if Cole decides to void the permit, the ruling will leave open several questions, primarily that of how developers should be compensated for money they spent on the project after they obtained permits that were later revoked because of a city mistake.

'A Legal Matter'

"There are a lot of developers out there who are in this same position of having gotten a permit and then being affected by a community plan that went into effect after they got the permit," Cooper said. "It's a legal matter that will require a lot of thought."

Cooper said Morton Avenue Associates has more than $700,000 invested so far on the development.

Ron Flesch, a general partner in the development firm, said workers will complete some small construction jobs at the site until the July 24 court date but will not "take on anything big." So far, some grading work has been completed and footings for retaining walls have been built. Flesch said the firm would lose about $26,000 in interest payments during the next two months because the developer is hesitant to carry out full-scale construction projects until the court date.

Blinderman, the residents' attorney, said she is sure that the building permit will be revoked and that the developer will have to scale down plans and build a 12-unit project or abandon it.

'Does Not Conform'

"The bottom line is that the developer was given an illegal permit that does not conform to the community plan," Blinderman said.

The Morton Avenue project is not the only such development that has been snarled in debates about the moratorium.

A residents' group in Silver Lake had fought on similar grounds a 107-unit apartment complex in the 3600 block of Marathon Street, across from Bellevue Park.

However, Mary Kelly, spokeswoman for the group, said residents stopped the fight after the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission ruled in favor of the developer. Kelly said tenants and homeowners in the area could not raise an estimated $5,000 in legal fees to continue the fight in court.

Instead, the group has scheduled a meeting tonight with Los Angeles Transportation Department officials to stress the need for solutions to traffic problems in the area, Kelly said.

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