Citing the desperate need for housing in Los Angeles, the Planning Commission on Thursday approved construction of three-story apartment buildings beside single-family houses in the Valley Village area of North Hollywood, enraging many residents.
Residents of Valley Village, a quiet enclave in the southern portion of North Hollywood, began fighting four years ago to keep tall apartment buildings, known to opponents as "stucco mountains," from overshadowing their expensive houses.
Community leaders said they are confident that the City Council will overturn the commission's unanimous vote and approve a two-story height limit recommended by a citizens advisory committee, which met for nearly two years to draw up a land-use plan for the area.
The council will vote on the plan after the Planning and Land Use Management Committee holds a public hearing.
The plan covers a 1 1/2-square-mile area bounded by the Hollywood Freeway on the east, the Tujunga Wash next to Coldwater Canyon Avenue on the west, the Ventura Freeway on the south and Burbank Boulevard on the north.
Councilmen Joel Wachs, Zev Yaroslavsky and John Ferraro, who represent the area, are sympathetic to residents' concerns about lack of privacy and support the lower height limit, according to their deputies.
But developers and others may lobby council members in coming months to accept the three-story restriction approved by the commission. At Thursday's commission meeting, land use consultant Howard S. Raphael of North Hollywood called the two-story limit punitive. And Fred Russell, a retired movie technician who owns a small apartment house on Whitsett Avenue, said lower height limits would be overkill.
In the meantime, building in the area is restricted by a temporary ordinance. The moratorium, approved in November, 1986, expires later this year, but the City Council can extend it for one year.
The ordinance restricts development in several ways, limiting all new buildings to two stories and holding the square footage of commercial developments to 1 1/2 times the size of the lot. Building apartments and condominiums on property zoned for commercial use is prohibited.
In approving the three-story limit, the commission required developers to provide five feet more space between their projects and adjoining residential properties than is ordinarily required. The actual distance between the buildings and houses depends on the size of the apartment buildings. Commissioners said the additional space would help offset the impact of the three-story buildings.
"The commission action is meant to maintain the balance between the time residents put in on this and the citywide concern over the need for housing," said William G. Luddy, commission president. "I'm afraid the need for housing is a nasty problem, and there's no clean and easy solution."
But Kurt Hunter, president of the North Hollywood Residents Assn., said the three-story height limit would encourage developers to knock down older buildings and displace residents who pay monthly rents of $400 to $700.
"What good does it do to have older buildings replaced by high-rent ones that cost $800 to $1,400 a month? " said Hunter, who was a member of the citizens advisory committee. "We sat night after night to come up with a plan, and what good did it do if the Planning Commission and the city staff don't listen?"
City planners, who recommended taller height limits than residents wanted, said their job is to strike a balance between all the interests involved.