A plan to build high-rise apartments in the heart of Hollywood could get more complicated after a Los Angeles commission recommended a move that would make it harder for a church on the site to be torn down.
The Cultural Heritage Commission unanimously recommended that the City Council deem the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist a historic monument.
Doing so would give the building added protections against alteration and demolition, giving city officials a chance to review any major changes to the half-century-old church.
The fate of the church represents one battle in the ongoing war over denser development in Hollywood and the future of the storied neighborhood: The church is at Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, where developers want to build a trio of structures with apartments, shops and restaurants.
The plan is opposed by a group called Save Residential Hollywood, which asked for the church to be designated as historic. It argues that denser development there and at other Hollywood sites will strain aging infrastructure, worsen traffic and ultimately destroy the character of their neighborhood.
Save Residential Hollywood says the church boasts a unique design and has been an important part of the neighborhood's history. The 22,000-square-foot building has a Midcentury Modern design, including a sanctuary with an accordion-like ceiling, according to city staff. It is home to the Mosaic Church.
The Los Angeles Conservancy, a historic preservation group, said it wants to see the church building incorporated into the new project "as a distinctive anchor of the community."
But attorneys representing the building owner argued that the application to make the church a historic monument was marred with inaccuracies and that the architecture was not sufficiently distinctive to meet the city requirements.
Attorney Dave Rand said the owner is concerned that a historic designation would "fundamentally impede" the development plans.
"This is very clearly a move by anti-development forces to stop the project," attorney William Delvac added after the hearing Thursday.
Several local groups that sided with Save Residential Hollywood countered that they were focused on protecting the building, not blocking the planned development.
"The amount of support you saw here today is not about blocking a project," Christy McAvoy, co-founder of the preservation group Hollywood Heritage, said after Thursday's hearing. "It's about saving a building that is important to them."
McAvoy added that preservation didn't mean that new development could not occur. "It's not rocket science to incorporate a historic building into a development," she said.
It isn't impossible to demolish or alter a historic monument in the city, but the label makes it harder to do so, requiring added review by city officials. Recently, the same city commission recommended that a Beverly Grove apartment complex be deemed a historic monument, to the elation of tenant supporters fighting plans to tear down the building.
Delvac said Thursday's decision "does not stop the project from being processed for new development," but he declined to immediately elaborate on how it would affect the plans for the Hollywood site.
"At this point, they're keeping all their options open as to what they might do," he said.
The Thursday decision is not final: The council will have the last say on whether the church becomes a monument.
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