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Bookstore’s Wish for a Star Atop Old Theater May Come True

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After weeks of negotiations, Studio City’s new bookstore has won consent from a residents group to replace a five-foot-tall stucco falcon head atop an old building with a single red star.

In exchange, Bookstop/Bookstar Inc. agreed to scrap plans to remove the name Studio City from two signs on a prominent column and promised not to paint green- and peach-colored stripes on the building, an old movie theater that the new owners are converting.

The issue might seem trivial. But city officials and leaders of homeowner groups say the agreement shows the clout residents have gained from the new Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan, which strengthens their hand in bargaining with developers.

The plan contains such detailed restrictions that developers must remain within them or appeal to the city Planning Commission for an exemption. The commission in turn considers local opposition to the proposals, giving homeowner groups the power to bargain for changes in return for their support.

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“The limitations are so specific and well-defined, and exceptions to the specific conditions need to be approved,” said Tony Lucente, president of the Studio City Residents Assn. “And that’s great because it gives us an opportunity to influence a decision.”

Indeed, Bookstar planned today to submit the compromise it hammered out with the Studio City Residents Assn. to the Planning Commission, which is considering the bookstore’s request for an exemption from rules governing signs.

“We made changes on those things we actually had a right to so we could have a compromise on those things that we needed a Specific Plan exception for,” said Gregory C. Taylor, who was hired by Bookstar to guide the corporation through the city’s exemption process.

Homeowner leaders said it was too early to predict all the ramifications of the Specific Plan, which was passed in January in an effort to limit growth on a 17-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard. But many said the plan’s multitude of restrictions--including those on the sizes and heights of commercial buildings and signs--are sure to attract developers seeking exemptions from the city.

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They said that to seek an exemption without ensuring the support of the community is foolhardy, especially in boulevard neighborhoods well-known for vocal opposition to projects disliked by neighbors.

“In the past, developers would say, ‘Why do I have to talk to your group? We’re going to build what we’re going to build,’ ” said Richard H. Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. “Now, the developers are forced to listen to the community. They can’t do the work unless they get city permission.”

Bookstar applied for an exemption in early October, after city officials informed the corporation that its proposed signs violated the plan. Bookstar representatives brought their plans several times before Studio City residents, who wanted the theater, built in the 1930s, preserved in its original state as much as possible.

“In today’s political climate, it’s hard to get that approval without dealing with the residents association,” Taylor said.

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A red and white neon star, the corporate logo that was to sit on top of the building, violated height requirements, said David Tehrani, a city planning associate. Two other stars designed to float above the corporation’s name on the marquee enlarged the surface area of the sign, another violation.

Bookstar’s plan was considered by a hearing examiner last month, and the residents association stated objections. Negotiations between the two sides soon accelerated.

The last round took place Tuesday, with about 40 residents questioning Taylor about everything from the use of neon to the removal of the falcon’s head before a compromise was struck.

In return for allowing changes such as the removal of the falcon’s head, residents won a number of concessions, including placing a sign at the back of the store on a lower level and the substitution of tan or gray paint for the green-and-peach motif.

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In the meantime, a hearing examiner has made a recommendation that neither side favors, which they hope that the Planning Commission will reject today in favor of their compromise.


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