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Plan May Close Height Loophole on Boulevard

Times Staff Writer

Stung by complaints that a “three-story” office building in Studio City turned out to be seven floors high, Los Angeles officials are taking steps to tighten controls on the height of new buildings along 17-mile-long Ventura Boulevard.

City planners are to unveil a proposal Monday that would eliminate special height bonuses given developers who put up buildings on hillsides or design them with tall landscape planters that artificially raise the construction site.

The changes would toughen a temporary construction-control ordinance enacted by the City Council in 1985 to give officials time to decide on permanent development standards for busy Ventura Boulevard.

That ordinance restricted new buildings to a height of 45 feet--although it did not specify how the height should be measured.

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Developers quickly discovered that they could obtain an extra 12 feet by building tall planters and measuring 45 feet up from the top of them.

Those building on slopes also learned that they could designate portions of their structures as “separate buildings” that stepped up hillsides and obtain extra height without technically violating the 45-foot rule.

By using such methods to calculate height, developers of the Fairway Building at Fairway Avenue and Ventura Boulevard in Studio City obtained a permit for a three-story building that angry neighbors complained towers 95 feet above the boulevard.

Measure From Curb

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The rules, to be discussed at an 11 a.m. public hearing Monday at the Van Nuys Woman’s Club, would measure the height of all new buildings from the boulevard’s curb. They would apply from Studio City to Woodland Hills.

“When the interim control ordinance was implemented, the City Council and Planning Commission meant a 45-foot height limitation, without exception,” said Richard Platkin, the city planner working to close the loophole. “They never anticipated that it might mean 57 feet or higher.”

The crackdown was requested in August by Councilman John Ferraro, who represents the Studio City area. Ferraro cited “serious concern by residents living on hillside lots immediately overlooking Ventura Boulevard.”

Ferraro acted after the Studio City Residents Assn. called for protection from view-blocking offices for hillside neighborhoods.

Association president Polly Ward said frustration felt by homeowners--and confusion experienced by city officials--threatened to spread to other hillside sites along the boulevard in Studio City.

Homeowner Rosalee Jeffries, whose sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley has been obscured by the Fairway Building, said she welcomes the restrictions--even though they came too late for her.

She said her living room windows look directly into windows of recently occupied offices. She said she and her husband, Dean, are suing the building’s developers, but a court date could be years off.

“That building is illegal any way you look at it,” she said.

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