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Builder Given 5-Year Penalty

Times Staff Writer

A Brentwood-based developer who demolished the last 19th century home on Bunker Hill without a permit will be barred from building on the site for five years, according to Los Angeles city officials.

David Keim, the chief code enforcement officer at the city’s Department of Building and Safety, said he believed that it was the first time his agency had invoked the so-called scorched-earth ordinance to halt construction on the site of an illegally demolished structure.

The sanction was imposed in response to the April leveling of the Giese house by G.H. Palmer Associates, a firm credited with developing successful suburban-style apartments in downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1887 at what is now West Cesar Chavez Avenue and Figueroa Street, the Queen Anne-style cottage was being used as a staging area for another Palmer project, the Orsini, when it was demolished by a contractor.

Ben Reznik, an attorney for the company’s top official, Geoff Palmer, said his client would appeal the decision to the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners.

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Reznik said the home had become a safety hazard and had been declared a public nuisance in December after repeated reports of vandalism. Dozens of construction workers showed up at a June hearing to support Palmer by carrying signs with pictures of the graffiti-tagged structure and messages that read, “It’s Gone. No Longer a Home for Criminals or Gangs!”

“I’m certainly disappointed that the penalties seemed to have been applied without any consideration whatsoever to all of the extenuating circumstances,” Reznik said. “We were under orders to abate a nuisance ... it was pretty well understood that the structure was going to get demolished.”

The Department of Building and Safety, however, issued a decision Wednesday that the house had been demolished without permits and placed a five-year moratorium on the site.

The decision will be recorded in the department’s computer system so that no building permit for the property can be granted until after April 21, 2008, Keim said. The affidavit also will be recorded on the property’s title to alert future buyers and lenders of the moratorium.

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The demolition angered preservationists who, along with city officials, were in talks with a private buyer to possibly save the Giese house by moving it to nearby Angelino Heights. The house was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re very pleased the city has followed through on its commitment to punish this willful and egregious demolition,” said Ken Bernstein, preservation issues director for the Los Angeles Conservancy.

“It’s important that not just Mr. Palmer, but that every developer knows that, if they don’t follow the rules and regulations and get the proper permits ... that this scorched-earth ordinance can be invoked on them,” said Christine Peters, a member of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council.

Palmer is scheduled to be arraigned Sept. 24 on two misdemeanor counts of demolishing a house without a permit and failing to obey an order by the Department of Building and Safety.


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