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Planners OK Subdivision at Pierce : Growth: A developer gets preliminary approval to build houses on property subleased from Temple Shir Chadash.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After lamenting the loss of open space, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 Thursday to approve a gated subdivision of 23 houses on 12 1/2 acres of vacant land owned by Pierce College and leased to a Jewish congregation.

Planning commissioners Suzette Neiman and William Christopher said it was a shortsighted use of public land to lease the site and an adjoining five acres to the Temple Shir Chadash.

The 12 1/2 acres belongs to the college, is leased to the temple and subleased to a developer that wants to build on the site.

Commission President Bill Luddy agreed that more open space is needed in the San Fernando Valley but said the city of Los Angeles should be willing to buy more land for parks.

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The proposal, which requires a zoning change and an amendment to the community plan for the area, still must be approved by the City Council before Kaufman and Broad of Southern California Inc., the developer, can begin building the houses planned for the site.

A lawsuit filed by the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization that seeks to nullify the college’s 75-year, $3-million lease to the temple appears to be the only major obstacle facing the project. Councilwoman Joy Picus, whose district includes the site, urged support for the project in a letter to commissioners Wednesday.

The homeowner group has petitioned the state Supreme Court to review a lower court ruling that upheld the lease. The suit argues that the college leased the property to the church for less than fair market value, which amounted to a “public subsidy of a religious enterprise” in violation of state and federal laws forbidding state aid to churches.

The college has contended that its obligation was simply to seek public bids for the property, not to ensure that such bids met some fair-market-value test.

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Last March, the City Council granted a conditional-use permit to allow Temple Shir Chadash to build a 450-seat temple, a 750-seat social hall and a religious school for 300 children on five acres at the site, which is in the 19900 block of Topham Street.

The Woodland Hills homeowners originally opposed the religious complex. But they later agreed to drop their objections after Picus privately assured homeowners that their concerns about traffic generated by the project would be addressed.

Sy Spalter, vice president of the homeowners organization, was the only private citizen to speak against the project at Thursday’s meeting. Spalter argued that the community had already agreed to accept the religious complex and now it was time for city officials to grant the community’s wish that the remaining acreage be free of development.


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