When a Model Home Really Isn’t : Development: A small-scale version of a proposed mansion is displayed in an effort to persuade planners that the huge estate wouldn’t fit the neighborhood.
When wealthy people get involved in neighborhood affairs, they can sometimes muster resources other community activists only dream of.
Residents of a lush section of Beverly Hills who oppose plans for a huge mansion in their midst found a novel way last week to illustrate their objections. The group--which includes Jack Lemmon, MCA President Sidney J. Sheinberg and real estate investor-developer Stuart Ketchum--showed up at a Planning Commission meeting with a 3-by-4-foot model of their neighborhood.
The immediate effect was powerful. A crowd of about 50 residents as well as a cadre of attorneys and consultants immediately surged around the model to get a closer look. The proposed estate, of course, dwarfed everything on the board.
Whether the tactic will influence the project’s fate is not yet clear, however. After 4 1/2 hours of testimony (virtually all of it in opposition), the Planning Commission decided Wednesday to hold off for at least a week on its ruling whether Robert Manoukian, the wealthy London owner of the property, should be permitted to build the proposed estate.
This was the latest bid in a high-stakes contest over the proposed estate on Tower Road in the city’s northwest corner.
Since public hearings began last August, the debate over the 59,000-square-foot estate has been moved from the small meeting rooms reserved for city commissions to the 108-seat auditorium reserved for City Council meetings at City Hall.
The debate has pitted a cadre of lawyers and consultants representing the wealthy owner against a cadre of lawyers and consultants representing some of Beverly Hills’ most well known residents.
Opponents who formed a group calling themselves Citizens for the Preservation of Beverly Hills deluged the area’s 90210 ZIP code with postcards asking residents to register their opposition with the city.
Manoukian has been represented at the hearings by lawyer Murray Fischer, a former president of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, as well as Terrence Everett, an attorney with a Los Angeles law firm. Manoukian’s architect, builder and other consultants also regularly fill the front two rows of council chambers.
Both sides agree that something will be built on the property, which now is the site of three homes. What they are spending thousands of dollars to determine is how big an estate will be built.
The plans have been scaled back already. Early plans for the four-acre property in the exclusive residential district above Sunset Boulevard called for a two-story, 41,000-square-foot main residence with 14 bedrooms, a gym, a ballroom and a cinema. A 3,000-square-foot security gatehouse with six bedrooms and an 8,000-square-foot guest villa with five bedrooms also was planned.
The estate would provide 25 enclosed parking spaces and adequate parking along driveways and the main residence motor court for 68 additional cars.
Even in the exclusive Hillside District--the hills that gave the city of Beverly Hills its name--the main residence would be four to eight times the size of other homes in the area, which range from about 5,000 to 10,000 square feet.
After facing an outcry of community opposition and reservations expressed by the city’s commission at the Jan. 27 public hearing, attorneys for Manoukian unveiled a scaled-back version of the estate on Wednesday, which was reflected in the model.
The new proposal calls for a 19-bedroom estate that includes a main residence of 27,126 square feet, servants quarters of about 8,000 square feet connected by a corridor to the main house, and no security gate house.
The new proposal, which reduces the estate by about 7,500 square feet, makes no mention of the home-sized basement of 10,718 square feet. The basement was exempt because city code does not require the basement of a home to be counted in calculating floor area, according to the city Planning Department.
Manoukian’s lawyers said he had also eliminated a controversial ballroom from the basement that residents were concerned would draw hundreds of party-goers to the property.
However, residents refused to be placated by the concessions, arguing that the basement was not a typical basement rumpus room, but a living area that should be included in the total floor space.
“They are playing a shell game,” said Ketchum. The basement was included in the original calculation, “but somehow, miraculously is now not included in the calculation of total square footage in their new plan.”
Opponents renewed their demand that the city require an environmental impact report for the project to evaluate how two years of construction and traffic would affect the area.
However, Commission Chairman Jerry Magnin sternly warned that there must be a disagreement between experts on the impact of the home to require such an environmental report, and commissioners must rule based on city law and facts, not emotions.
Magnin said the commission will take up the hearings again at 2 p.m. March 3.