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Hollywood Building Ban Eased for Project

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council, which last month approved a one-year building moratorium in the Highland-Cahuenga region of Hollywood, voted Wednesday to grant an exemption for the only large project planned for the area--a 180-unit apartment complex to be built on Highland Avenue.

The action, by a 9-2 vote, came on the final day at City Hall for lame-duck Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, who had introduced the moratorium during her 13th-District runoff campaign against challenger Michael Woo. Councilmen Marvin Braude and Ernani Bernardi voted against Wednesday’s action, and council members Stevenson, Robert Farrell, Joel Wachs and Zev Yaroslavsky did not attend the session.

Stevenson, meeting later with reporters, said the reversal could mean the demolition of the Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village, a cluster of 15 early Hollywood homes on property where the apartment complex would be built. The moratorium, which would have helped protect the historic structures, was approved by other council members largely to help her win reelection, Stevenson said.

‘Bungalows Were Doomed’

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“I knew when they voted to preserve (the bungalows) that it was to support me” in the campaign, Stevenson said. “The moment I lost the election I knew that vote was in trouble. I knew the moment I lost the election that . . . the bungalows were doomed.”

Edward Czuker, vice president of the Jan Development Co., said the exemption may enable his company to tear down and replace the 60-year-old bungalows later this year, even though the City Council voted in April to designate the bungalows as historic buildings. Under the city’s historic-designation ordinance, preservationists have six months, ending in late October, to complete plans for buying and refurbishing the weather-worn structures.

“It’s our opinion they will not be able to do that,” Czuker said. Although no price has been set for the 1.4-acre parcel, Czuker said, the company will not sell the land unless it gets more than the $2 million it paid for the property in December. Preservationists, led by tenants of the bungalows, probably will be unable to raise that much money, Czuker predicted.

Scaling Down Plan

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Czuker said his company tried to make the apartment project more appealing to council members by scaling down its original plan, which called for 220 units. The company is still planning to set aside 20% of the units for low- and moderate-income housing, he said.

But Brian Moore, president of the Whitley Heights Homeowners Assn., expressed anger over the political tenor of the vote and vowed that residents would continue looking for ways to protect the bungalows and to block new construction on Highland Avenue, the major surface route linking Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Moore told council members his group may file a lawsuit to try to stop the project because of the traffic it would add to one of the city’s most heavily congested areas.

Hollywood residents have worked for the moratorium for two years, Moore said. “We are a community united against this development--and we always were. We will continue to oppose it.”

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Undue Hardship

Council members said they granted Jan Development’s request to build based partly on city estimates that a 180-unit complex would create less than a 1% increase in the daily traffic volume on Highland Avenue--a percentage considered insignificant by city planning standards. The council majority also agreed that the hastily approved moratorium had posed an undue hardship for the company, which had more than $2 million committed to the project before the project site was added to the moratorium area.

Czuker told council members that the project had been given oral support from the city building and transportation departments and had received $10 million in state bond financing for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing. Stevenson had done nothing to oppose the complex until she unveiled the moratorium, even though she knew of the project six months in advance, Czuker added in an interview.

“She knew what we were going to build,” he said. The moratorium, he said, was “ramrodded through.”

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Sent a Letter

Stevenson, who said she never encouraged the company’s project, sent a letter to council members Wednesday urging that they reject the project. But she did not join council members Braude and Bernardi in the debate and learned of the council’s action only when she asked reporters about it at a farewell press conference two hours later.

Her absence drew criticism from homeowners, who said they had hoped she would put up a better fight for the moratorium. Moore, who accused her of a “lame-duck” performance, said the circumstances of the reversal smacked of a political “set-up,” partly because the action was introduced at a city planning committee meeting late Tuesday and added to the council agenda the following day.

“I’ve been around City Hall now for five years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “We were a constituency virtually without representation. We felt very cut loose.”

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Chose Not to Attend

Stevenson said she chose not to attend the session because she knew her vote would make no difference in preserving the moratorium or the historic bungalows.

Although she had been accused of introducing the moratorium to aid her reelection campaign, Stevenson denied Wednesday that the action was politically motivated and said she still opposes the project. She added, however, that the project’s current plans would be less damaging than the company’s original proposal to build 220 units.

Council members supporting the project argued that the company could try to boost the size of the project if it was willing to wait until the moratorium lapsed. The project site is in an area zoned for up to 280 units.

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Capacity Already Exceeded

But Braude said even the smaller size of the proposal would not ward off additional problems on Highland, where the recommended traffic capacity already has been exceeded. “When the water bottle is full, and you put more in it, it’s going to spill,” Braude said.

Braude said he had hoped the moratorium would give the city time to study zoning reductions in the Highland-Cahuenga area. He said he believes the proposed project site should be rezoned to contain no more than 90 or 100 units even if the bungalows are torn down.


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