A year after shelling out more than $1 million to get neighbors to drop their opposition to his swank Westside hotel, developer Sheldon Gordon is back on the firing line.
Only this time, his foe is rival hotelier Severyn Ashkenazy, and the solution may involve more than money alone.
In the latest chapter of what some say is a feud that is several years old, lawyers for Ashkenazy, whose hotel group includes L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills, have challenged the right of the Ma Maison Sofitel, Gordon’s 6-month-old hotel, to continue serving liquor unless it provides more parking for its patrons.
An official in West Hollywood, whose city has done battle with both men in recent years over their hotel projects, said: “They’re like two little kids fighting over a ball.
“We’re talking about competitors who are totally alienated from each other,” said the official, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used.
Quality of Life
Sounding more like an environmentalist than a lawyer for a competing hotelier, Ashkenazy attorney Tom Winfield last week asked a judge to order a review of whether the hotel’s parking plan is sufficient “to protect the quality of life of the neighbors.”
A decision by Superior Court Judge Kurt Lewin is expected in several weeks.
Despite the talk about neighborhood preservation, none of the neighbors who once opposed the hotel out of concern for noise and traffic were in the courtroom. For that matter, they are no longer involved in the case.
“We have no interest in getting crushed between two hotel magnates. We had our day,” said Harald Hahn, president of the Burton Way Homeowners Assn.
His group and two others made their peace with Gordon last year, promising to leave the hotel alone in exchange for Gordon writing a $250,000 check and agreeing to drop another $800,000 in a bank account--controlled by Gordon and the homeowner groups--to find more parking.
But the accord did nothing to curb opposition from Ashkenazy, whose company has been operating under federal bankruptcy protection since 1986. His lawyers have continued to dog Gordon--who also developed the Beverly Center--in his efforts to put the hotel struggle behind him.
Last month, when even some of Gordon’s former homeowner opponents appeared at the Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals and praised his plan to provide stack parking in the hotel’s underground garage, Ashkenazy’s lawyers were there to speak against it.
The panel approved the plan.
"(Gordon) has spent $1 million to cure a parking problem he claims doesn’t exist, and we feel that, for the good of the entire community, (the granting of a liquor permit) shouldn’t be allowed to just happen. That’s why we’re involved,” said Winfield, following last week’s court appearance.
However, Gordon’s lawyers offered a different view.
“What you’re seeing is the mischief of a disgruntled bankrupt hotelier who is trying to do everything he can to make life miserable for a competitor,” lawyer Ronald J. Silverman said.
He says Ashkenazy’s interest in Ma Maison is an attempt to force his client to buy an abandoned nightclub property Ashkenazy owns at 8511 Beverly Place, across the street from the hotel.
“He fought this hotel tooth and nail for years. And he has said that if Mr. Gordon would give him $5 million for the nightclub property, he’ll go away,” Silverman said. “I think that speaks for itself.”
The former nightclub, which faces the rear of the Ma Maison, is among the last vacant properties suitable for parking in the heavily congested commercial area near the hotel.
Although acknowledging that the hotel’s being forced to provide additional parking would increase the value of the nightclub property, Winfield said: “That’s not our prime consideration.”
Parking Plan Urged
“Nobody in their right mind thinks the Ma Maison is not going be allowed to continue serving liquor. The only question is whether they’re required to work out a legitimate parking plan in exchange for the privilege. . . . We think everyone benefits if they’re made to do the right thing.”
Gordon, meanwhile, is not taking the Ashkenazy challenge sitting down. The law firm that represents Gordon is, with Gordon’s encouragement, representing a group of residents opposed to liquor licenses for a couple of posh West Hollywood hotels Ashkenazy manages.
The group, headed by community activist Jeanne Dobrin, is asking the city of West Hollywood to deny conditional-use permits for the Valadon and Le Dufy. Ashkenazy needs the permits to obtain liquor licenses from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The lawyer who filed the appeals for the group in February is Michael Eidel, who also represents Gordon.
Eidel declined to say whether the community group was paying for his services, adding, “That’s a confidential matter.”
Dobrin, however, said: “We don’t have the money to go up against someone like Severyn Ashkenazy. . . . I just thank God there are people like Sheldon Gordon who can help us fight our battles.”
Tasting Own Medicine
Asked about the law firm’s involvement in the Ashkenazy matter, Gordon said, “We thought we would give them a taste of their own medicine.”
“I’ve been in business for 31 years and I think I’ve filed two lawsuits. I’m not the litigious sort. It never occurred to me to do anything like what he has done. He’s used every tactic imaginable to minimize competition from us.”
A spokesman for Ashkenazy said he was out of the country and could not be reached.
Dobrin said Eidel approached her several months ago “about helping us out” after another woman, whom she described as the “lead protestant” in the case, said she planned to move and asked to withdraw her name from the appeal.
Ashkenazy Enterprises last year reached an agreement with the city of West Hollywood allowing it to convert five apartment buildings--including the Valadon and Le Dufy--to hotels in exchange for a promise to pay $4.9 million over the next 20 years.
The financially troubled company, which also operates the Bel Age and Mondrian hotels in West Hollywood, sold the Valadon and Le Dufy to a couple of Illinois thrift institutions that were among its creditors after filing the bankruptcy petition in 1986. Ashkenazy has continued to manage them.
In documents filed in Superior Court, lawyers for Gordon claim Ashkenazy has embarked on a “10-year crusade” to derail their client’s efforts to develop Ma Maison, which opened last December across from the Beverly Center.
After Gordon announced plans to develop the 10-story, 311-suite hotel in 1981, Ashkenazy unsuccessfully challenged a minor zoning variance that made it possible for the hotel to be built, saying the hotel would adversely affect the nightclub property, in which he owns half-interest.
In 1985, when the city of West Hollywood sought an injunction to prevent the hotel from being built, on grounds it would have a negative impact on nearby residents of West Hollywood, Ashkenazy filed an almost identical action.
Later, during the two-year struggle against the hotel by the neighborhood groups, Ashkenazy’s lawyers were constant fixtures at a lengthy hearing before the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“They were there through the entire administrative process as a sort of floating third party,” Hahn recalled. “We got what we wanted, and I guess now maybe he (Ashkenazy) figures it’s his turn.”