A development firm that wants to replace a popular Atwater riding stable with a large apartment complex handed opponents a first-round victory last week when it withdrew its application for a zoning change and chose to try the more difficult route of obtaining an amendment to the community plan.
The development proposal had encountered fierce opposition from homeowners and equestrians who use Los Feliz Stables, a boarding and riding facility near Griffith Park that has been operating since the 1920s.
The stable operators, who lease the land, said they will attempt to buy the property; the developers said they are willing to listen to such an offer.
The developer, Ashkenazy Enterprises Inc., withdrew its request for the zoning change last week at a Los Angeles city Planning Commission hearing. The action was prompted by a hearing examiner's recommendation last month that the change be denied because it did not conform to the community plan.
'Going Through Another Door'
"It looks like we won the battle but not necessarily the war," Jane Shaw, manager of Los Feliz Stables said of the firm's decision to try to amend the community plan. "They found out there was one legal door closed to them and they're going to try and go through another door."
But, rather than leave the fate of the land up to city officials, Shaw said, she plans to meet with the developer next week to discuss buying the two-acre site on Rigali Avenue.
A spokesman for the developer said the firm is not opposed to selling the land and dropping its plans to build 60 to 80 apartments or condominiums.
"We would be happy to meet with Jane," Gary Nielsen, executive vice president of Ashkenazy Enterprises, said in an interview. "If she would be interested in buying it, we would be happy to discuss it. There has to be some way to make the property more profitable."
Nielsen declined to disclose an asking price for the property, near the end of Garden Avenue. He said the lease agreement with Shaw is not yielding a profit, although Ashkenazy is breaking even and not losing money on the property. Shaw said she pays $2,500 a month rent for the stables.
"Ultimately we will sell the property, change its use or have a more profitable equestrian use," Nielsen said.
Ashkenazy Enterprises, which owns and operates several luxury hotels in the Los Angeles area, including the exclusive L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills, is having serious financial problems. It is delinquent in making payments on more than $100 million in loans, and real estate tycoon Severyn Ashkenazy, who owns the firm along with his brother Arnold, has said he may sell as much as 50% of his property to pay the debts.
Ashkenazy Enterprises recently sold the 217-unit Los Feliz Village Apartments in Atwater, on the eastern border of Los Feliz Stables. The company bought the property where the stables are in 1979 with the intention of using it in conjunction with development of those apartments. The stable, however, was left standing.
Earlier this year, Ashkenazy Enterprises requested that the property be rezoned from the mixed agricultural and low-density housing designated in the Northeast Los Angeles community plan to multiple residential development. The Planning Commission was to vote on the zoning change application last week, but a letter from Ashkenazy requesting the withdrawal made a vote unnecessary.
"The staff report was very negative," Nielsen said of the report issued by Planning Commission hearing examiner John Parker. "The prospects for success were not very good."
In his report, Parker said the requested zoning change was incompatible with the community plan, which calls for equestrian facilities in the area, along with hiking and biking trails. Besides Los Feliz Stables, there are six other stables nearby on the east bank of the Los Angeles River.
Parker also found that such a large housing project, despite the proximity of Los Feliz Village Apartments, would be out of character in a neighborhood dominated by single-family homes.
Homeowners, fearing increased crime and traffic congestion in their neighborhoods, had joined with the equestrian group to fight the zoning change. The two groups mustered up 120 protesters to attend a July hearing before Parker, who made special note of the intense opposition.
Now that the zoning change has fallen through, Ashkenazy Enterprises' only avenue to get the housing project built is an amendment to the community plan, which sets forth general guidelines on how the area is to be developed.
But the request for an amendment would take at least six months to work its way through the bureaucracy before coming to a final vote of the City Council, said Arline DeSanctis, field deputy for Councilman Joel Wachs, whose 2nd District includes Atwater.