Hockey star Wayne Gretzky’s first Los Angeles face-off didn’t come against the Detroit Red Wings at the Forum on Thursday night.
It came hours before the Kings’ season opener, when he took on his next-door neighbor in a zoning dispute in Encino, where Gretzky moved five days ago.
As usual, the Great Gretzky was victorious.
Neighbor Ahron Zilberstein applied seven months ago to Los Angeles city officials for permission to subdivide his 1.4-acre Balboa Avenue lot so he can build a second home behind his small brick house.
But Gretzky, who moved into a 4,732-square-foot home on Monday, objected. He complained that a split lot would change the rural character of the neighborhood where he and his wife, actress Janet Jones, have settled.
Gretzky was practicing for his Kings debut when a City Hall hearing on the case was held Thursday morning. He sent lawyer Rob Glushon to tell the Planning Department’s advisory agency that he had closed escrow on his new home only last week.
Glushon would not say how much Gretzky paid for his secluded, farm-style estate, although neighbors say it was sold for $2.7 million.
“The Gretzkys’ understanding when they made their investment was that there is a minimum density of one unit per acre,” Glushon said. “There are a lot of lots there that could be affected . . . this could open the door to that street being transformed.”
Zilberstein told city officials that be was led to believe that nobody would object to his building a second house on the property. But, in addition to Gretzky, an aide to City Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents Encino, also opposed the plan.
After listening to both sides, agency deputy Albert Landini ruled against the lot split. Zilberstein can appeal the decision to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals and, ultimately, to the City Council.
Zilberstein, who said he was unaware that his new neighbor is considered hockey’s greatest player, said he plans to drop the gloves and do just that.
“If he gives us free tickets to the hockey games, maybe we’ll drop the case,” joked Yoram Stern, Zilberstein’s business partner. “If he scores a lot of goals, it will help the property values of the neighborhood.”
Neighborhood leaders were hoping Gretzky can pull off a hat trick by continuing his City Hall win streak at the Board of Zoning Appeals and the City Council.
The dispute is an appropriate welcome to Los Angeles, said Kathy Lewis, land-use chairman of the Encino Property Owners Assn. and an advocate of slow growth in the San Fernando Valley. She said she hopes Gretzky keeps Zilberstein in the penalty box.
“Mr. Gretzky’s certainly being introduced to local politics quickly,” Lewis said. “I lived here six years before I had a problem.”