Heeding complaints from neighbors, a city zoning administrator issued a ruling Friday that could force the city's oldest Armenian parochial school to reduce its student body by nearly half next year.
The ruling, made at a Van Nuys zoning hearing, is the latest twist in a long-running dispute surrounding the Holy Martyrs Elementary and Ferrahian School on White Oak Avenue in Encino.
For years, residents of neighborhoods near the 3.2-acre complex have blamed traffic, noise and litter on steadily increasing crowds drawn to the 640-student parochial school and an adjacent Armenian Apostolic church. School officials insist that the complaints are overblown.
Permit Change Asked, Denied
On Friday, school officials asked associate zoning administrator James Crisp to amend a 1973 permit limiting enrollment at the school to 350 students. In return, they offered to move part of the school by the beginning of the 1986-87 school year.
Crisp denied the request, effectively ordering the school to cut its enrollment by 290 students.
"This site, by any reasonable standards, is not large enough to accommodate the number of students you are talking about," he said. "I'm trying to be empathetic, but what you have here is a situation where you can only take so much."
School officials, although conceding that they were in violation of the 1973 permit, said they would appeal the decision to the city's Board of Zoning Appeals.
"The issue is very important to the Armenian community," said Holy Martyr principal Gabriel Injekian. "We do not feel that we are to blame for what you heard today."
At the 90-minute hearing at the Van Nuys Women's Club, neighbors of the school listed a series of complaints, ranging from litter to drag racing in the school parking lot. They also presented Crisp with the latest in a series of petitions complaining about the school. Crisp said he received two petitions Friday, with a total of about 120 signatures.
The school also drew an unusual complaint from a spokesman for an Encino branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The spokesman, Arnold Whitehead, said the parking lot of the nearby Mormon church was regularly used by people from the Armenian center, despite repeated warnings. He also complained about noise and trash.
"We have tried to be considerate and lenient," said Whitehead. "But we also believe in obeying the law."
After the hearing was over, Injekian appeared upset by suggestions that his student body was a source of neighborhood problems.
"This is an excellent school," he said. "We have a dropout rate of zero. No one uses drugs. . . . The school is not to blame."