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Land Swap Sought Instead of Apartments in Congested Area

September 26, 1985|THERESA WALKER | Times Staff Writer

A developer who originally proposed building a large apartment project in a densely populated area of Highland Park is instead seeking to swap his land for vacant city-owned property elsewhere.

The recently announced change of plans is a relief to neighborhood residents who, along with the office of Los Angeles Councilman Joel Wachs, strongly protested the building of a 92-unit apartment development in what is called "The Hole," a low-income housing area in a hollow northwest of the Pasadena Freeway, between Avenues 48 and 52. The protests were based on fears of increased crime and traffic.

Developer Bruce Weiss last week requested Wachs' help in seeking the land swap. Arline DeSanctis, a Wachs aide, said she will check with the city attorney's office to determine if such a swap is legal and, if it is, to see what land, if any, may be available for exchange.

Not Sure Plan Will Succeed

"It's nothing we can guarantee at this time but we would like to see some type of arrangement worked out," DeSanctis said, adding that she is not aware of any previous exchange of land between the city and private developers in Highland Park. "I'm not sure if it's even been done anywhere in the city," she said.

Weiss owns a 50-foot-wide dirt pathway that parallels the freeway and was once a Union Pacific right of way. The path, which runs behind existing apartment buildings packed at the bottom of South Avenue 50, is now used as a jogging path and a shortcut to nearby Sycamore Grove Park. After meeting with a small group of community activists recently, Weiss said he hopes the property can become permanent parkland.

"I'm trying to be as civic-minded as I can. I understand the community's feelings. We are working together now to get me out of there," Weiss said.

No New Land in Mind

The developer said that he has no particular plot of land in mind for the swap but that he assumes it will be somewhere in Wachs' district, which includes large portions of the San Fernando Valley and such Eastside communities as Atwater and Highland Park. "I'm open," he said about location. "It's probably a process of elimination more than anything else."

He stressed, however, that any swapped property would have to be comparable in size to the more than 100,000-square-foot plot in Highland Park.

Residents in the area had long held concerns about conditions in "the hole," a tightly packed cluster of individually owned apartment buildings whose 258 units are occupied mainly by Latino immigrants. Protesters of Weiss' development plans--neighboring Anglo, Latino and Asian homeowners--describe "the hole" as the scene of drug traffic, gang activity, vagrancy and other street crimes.

Support for Swap

A spokeswoman for the group protesting Weiss' original plans said area residents have switched from opposing the developer to supporting his swap efforts. Petitions asking that a swap be arranged are being circulated and will be sent to Wachs' office this week, said Diane Alexander, a longtime resident of the area who leads the neighborhood group.

"The persons who really have the ball now are Joel Wachs and his field aide Arline DeSanctis," Alexander said. "They're the ones that really need to go and urge the city to make a land swap."

Weiss, Alexander said, is trying to work with the community and "we're very lucky that he is agreeable."

Weiss had withdrawn an application for a zoning change last month in favor of meeting with community members. He had applied for a zoning variance to allow a 17-unit apartment complex on a parcel currently zoned for single-family homes. Weiss planned to build 75 apartments on two adjacent parcels already zoned for multi-unit housing.

Proposals for Land

DeSanctis said people in the community favor two alternative proposals for the future use of the land. One idea is to build a bike path along the entire stretch of land from Avenues 48 to 52. The other is to build a blocklong parking lot from Avenues 48 to 49 to relieve parking congestion at Sycamore Grove Park, leaving the excess area to be used for a long-hoped-for widening of the Pasadena Freeway on-ramp at Avenue 52.

In the meantime, DeSanctis said, Wachs' office has sought to relieve complaints about crime in the area by requesting that a special police task force from the department's Northeast Division, which includes Highland Park, be formed to clean up "the hole." A letter sent to Capt. Robert Taylor, the division's commanding officer, has not been answered, but DeSanctis will continue to pursue the idea or at least try to get patrols increased in the area, she said.

Taylor said in an interview with The Times that, although residents in the area have legitimate concerns, police statistics do not warrant the formation of a special crime task force.

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