Temple Hopes to Mend Fences With Neighbors by Walling Off Parking Lot
An Encino synagogue wants to mend its fences with the community by building one--after upsetting its neighbors by buying nine homes for a parking lot.
Leaders of Valley Beth Shalom have pledged to construct a 900-foot wall along the 15800 block of Moorpark Street to hide their planned 288-car parking lot from residents who live across the street.
Temple officials say they hope their gesture will end a dispute that has split the neighborhood since last year, when the synagogue purchased the nine houses along the south side of the street.
“That street was like North and South Vietnam,” said Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino. “There was a bitter civil struggle between the homeowners who wanted to sell and those that didn’t want them to.”
The buying of the houses began after a six-story office building was put up directly behind homes on the south side of the street.
Residents there complained that the year-old Fujita office building made their houses unlivable by blocking sunlight and intruding on their backyard privacy, and they were quick to sell when the synagogue offered to buy them out.
But those on the north side of the street tried to block the sales. They argued that the view of the towering Fujita building from their front yards was irritating enough without having to look at asphalt and parked cars below it.
Lot Called ‘Cancerous’ Intrusion
They picketed the temple to protest the parking plan and complained to Los Angeles city officials that the lot would be “a cancerous” commercial intrusion into their residentially zoned neighborhood.
The sales went through, nonetheless. Homeowners on the south side were paid a total of $2.5 million for their houses, which were removed from their lots late last year. City officials approved a conditional-use permit for the parking lot.
Temple officials said they need the new lot to accommodate members of their congregation and to compensate for loss of existing parking places when a temple expansion project gets under way next year.
Synagogue leaders, who will seek city permission Monday to begin their expansion project, said they have now mollified neighbors with the promise of the six-foot-high wall.
Stan Zicklin, president of the temple, said the Slumpstone structure will be accompanied by heavy landscaping to further screen the parking lot and serve as a buffer between the remaining homes and the Fujita building.
“We met with the neighborhood and reviewed our plans with them,” Zicklin said. “I think those there felt good about the results.”
But not all the residents are convinced that good fences necessarily mean good neighbors.
Many say they will be looking for some assurance from the city at next week’s hearing that the parking lot and landscaped wall will be permanently maintained. Others say they want guarantees that it is not the forerunner to more commercial construction.
“I’m afraid that later on they’ll change the lot to something else,” said Edwin Semidey, who moved across the street from the parking site a year before the temple bought out the south side of the block.
Semidey said he fears that, after “three years or so, but when things cool down, they’ll put something else in. This was a nice little neighborhood before they took those houses out. Now it’s miserable. It’s a shame.”
Neighbor Joyce Kishineff disputed the need for the new parking lot. She said the Fujita building already has 1,800 underground spaces that could be used by temple members attending evening and weekend synagogue events.
Kishineff said the city should acquire the nine now-empty lots and turn them into a park or greenbelt. She suggests that would make up for city officials having allowed the office building at the neighborhood’s edge.
Her husband, Harry Kishineff, said he will ask the city to turn Moorpark Street into a cul-de-sac to control traffic from the Fujita building and the temple. “We have to do something to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood,” he said.
Others on the street said they will back the temple’s upcoming request for a conditional-use permit for its expansion if the synagogue delivers on its promise of the wall and landscaping.
“If it’s a green planted buffer that’s well-maintained, it will be fine. The ball’s in the city’s court now,” homeowner Manfred Moore said.
Wants It In Writing
Leah Cohen said she wants a written promise that the temple parking lot won’t eventually be used by the Fujita building or other nearby office buildings.
“I’ll fight it if it becomes a commercial lot. I picketed the temple before, and I’m Jewish,” Cohen said.
Synagogue leaders said the new lot will be for temple use only.
“We’ve got 1,700 families,” Zicklin said. “We’re going to be able to now accommodate the families in facilities they should have had two or three years ago.”
The conditional-use permit being sought would allow construction of buildings with about 35,000 square feet of space, including meeting rooms, extra office space and 22 classrooms for day school and nursery school.
Part of the construction will be at the site of an old motel that has been converted for temple use and part will be in the synagogue’s existing parking lot, Zicklin said.
He said temple officials regret the rift caused by their home-buying.
“We felt badly for those who felt badly. We’re not insensitive,” he said. “We’ve tried to do our best to make this transition in the neighborhood as easy as possible.”