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BLOCKED AGAIN : Developer, Thwarted in Effort to Raze Carwash, Trips on Another Project

Times Staff Writer

Developer Ira Smedra, of Studio City carwash fame, is having his difficulties in Van Nuys too.

Smedra had won preliminary approval from the city of Los Angeles to tear down a former lumber store in the 16300 block of Sherman Way and put in an eight-screen movie house and office complex. But Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joy Picus appealed, saying the project needs to be redesigned because of inadequate parking.

So Smedra--who was blocked in his attempt to raze a Studio City carwash that residents claimed was a cultural landmark--put all plans for the Van Nuys project on hold, including demolition. Meanwhile, the city of Los Angeles ordered Smedra to demolish the vacant building by today because it is an eyesore and attracts vagrants.

But the former lumber store is still standing because Smedra has appealed the order and asked city inspectors for a hearing. He claims that the building fell into disrepair because he allowed city firefighters to use it to train recruits in fire safety techniques, including cutting doors in walls and punching holes in the roof.

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The Los Angeles City Fire Department has used the building in training exercises about eight times since April, Capt. Gilbert Reyna said.

“The building is not a hazard,” Smedra said Thursday. “I’ve had a crew out there every 48 hours since last week painting out graffiti and checking it to make sure it’s secure.”

‘Neighborhood Nuisance’

Picus called the building a “neighborhood nuisance” and said Smedra has failed until recently to respond to complaints about its condition. She said that nearby residents have been complaining about the vacant building for at least two years.

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Smedra is “slippery,” Picus said. “He’s one of those people who waits until the last minute, does what he should have done a long time ago and then claims he is a victim when things don’t go his way.”

The controversy is the latest involving Smedra, whose plans to replace a Studio City carwash with a mini-mall met with community opposition and became a cause celebre. Nearby residents waged a long--but ultimately unsuccessful--campaign to have the Cultural Heritage Commission assign landmark status to the 1950s-style carwash. But the carwash won a reprieve from the wrecking ball last month after the City Council ordered Smedra to draft a detailed environmental impact report.

Smedra said Thursday he does not want to demolish the former lumber store until he gets city permission to build the proposed theater and office complex. He said that if the city rejects his plans, he would prefer to sell the 155,000-square-foot property with the building intact. The complex would contain a three-story office building, at least one restaurant and 2,400 movie theater seats. Smedra said he will provide 663 parking spaces.

Picus predicted that moviegoers who cannot find parking spaces will spill into the residential neighborhood just south of the proposed complex, clogging streets. She said she has appealed the Building and Safety Department’s preliminary approval of the project and asked for a full environmental review. If the department rejects her request, she said, she will take the unusual step of asking the City Council to order Smedra to draft such a report.

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