MAYWOOD — Unless the courts decide otherwise, the Fernwood Hotel--which first opened its doors in the 1920s--has checked out its last guest.
After nearly four hours of debate, the City Council decided Tuesday to revoke the three-story Fernwood's nonconforming use as a hotel. The Fernwood, once declared a public nuisance by the city, sits in an area designated as an industrial zone in a 1966 ordinance. That ordinance prohibits hotels in an industrial zone but the Fernwood, located at 3421 Slauson Ave., was grandfathered in when the ordinance was approved.
Owner May Appeal
The council agreed unanimously, though, that the building has not operated as a hotel in more than a year, a requirement that gave the city the right to revoke its nonconforming use permit.
Arthur K. Snyder, a former Los Angeles city councilman who represents the Fernwood's owner, said Maywood was being "unreasonable." Snyder, now a lawyer in private practice, said his client might appeal the council's decision to the courts.
Snyder said the principal owner has spent more than $200,000 rehabilitating the building and needs more time to complete the repairs. But the city says time has run out.
City officials contended that they have been patient with the hotel's current owner-- Apartments and Hotels, Inc., whose principal shareholder is Nick Mallas--to bring the building up to health and building codes.
"They've had plenty of time to repair the building," said City Atty. Cary Reisman during the hearing. "Feet have been dragged, perhaps for financial reasons, but that doesn't give" the owner a right to get an extension of the nonconforming use provision.
The hotel has been vacant since September, 1984, when the city obtained a preliminary injunction restricting occupation of the Fernwood until building, health and safety violations were corrected. Only a caretaker was allowed to live in the hotel. City officials noted that a 60-day period to correct the violations had long since expired.
Changed Hands Four Times
City officials said that since the injunction was issued, the hotel has changed hands four times. The city started counting the time limit on the nonconforming use from Jan. 20, 1985, when the repairs on the hotel by then-owner Thomas Pyle stopped. Snyder argued unsuccessfully that the nonconforming use never expired because there was a caretaker occupying the building.
Linda Dovalis, a city building and planning assistant, said the Fernwood lacks fire-resistant doors, a bathroom accessible to the handicapped on the first floor and an enclosure for a stairway. She said there were deteriorated joists in the basement, deteriorated plumbing fixtures, open electrical wiring and missing light fixtures.
But Snyder said that most of the violations have been remedied.
"There are no hazardous conditions remaining," Snyder said, adding that the building is 85% rehabilitated and that the work on earthquake safety reinforcement was completed before the end of last year. What remains to be done, Snyder said, is minor.
"I don't think that's a rational reason for taking away a half a million dollar investment," he said, noting that Mallas spent more than $300,000 for the building in addition to $200,000 for repairs.
Fixes Up Old Buildings
Mallas purchased the building in March, 1985. Snyder said Mallas is a general contractor who makes a hobby out of buying and fixing up old buildings and then operating them.
During the proceedings, Snyder called the city's action "unreasonable" and "unfair" and made repeated references to taking the case to court if the nonconforming use were revoked.
After the hearing, Snyder said that he would have to consult with his client before taking any further action. He said Mallas is out of state and could not be reached for comment.
Reisman said the owner could demolish the building, convert it to a conforming use or challenge the city's decision in court.
Under current zoning, the building could be used for the sale of building materials, equipment rental, feed and grain sales, and almost all types of manufacturing, Dovalis said. Even so, she said, the owner "couldn't open the building again until the code violations are taken care of."
Snyder said in an interview that it would probably take Mallas about 90 days to complete the repairs. But at the hearing, Richard Hestlow, administrator for the hotel owner, said he didn't know how much more time would be needed to correct the violations.
After the meeting, Mayor Rose Marie Busciglio said, "I feel badly because of the money," already invested in the hotel, but the council had to take "a stand sooner or later."
"We decided you can only threaten and threaten so long. You get tired of it. If we don't follow through on things, it doesn't do any good" to have ordinances, she said.