A Los Angeles zoning board, suggesting that an Argentine group and the Atwater community should learn to live together, this week agreed to permit dancing and drinking at a private social club adjoining a residential area.
More than 670 residents and businessmen, along with City Councilman Joel Wachs, vehemently oppose plans by the Argentine Assn. of Los Angeles to sponsor parties at its center at 3160 Glendale Blvd.
But the city Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday voted to allow the activity, overturning an earlier ruling by a zoning administrator. The board, however, limited hours of operation and the size of gatherings, as well as imposing other restrictions in an effort at compromise.
Residents said they will appeal the decision to the City Council.
What began as a zoning squabble over converting a former thrift shop into a private club took on international ramifications in December when the Argentine Consulate in Los Angeles stepped into the controversy, urging city officials to approve the club's plans. As a result, the California secretary of state and Mayor Tom Bradley's office tried to negotiate a compromise.
Residents and Wachs argued that the club would create noise and increase crime and parking congestion.
The Argentine group, however, has repeatedly claimed that the widespread opposition represents discrimination against Latinos. Residents deny the charge of bias, pointing to a large Latino population in Atwater.
After the three-hour hearing Tuesday, James D. Leewong, chairman of the zoning appeals board, whose members are appointed by the mayor, chided the Argentine group and residents for not settling their differences. He said the argument "should have been and could have been worked out long before it got here."
He urged the community and the club to "become good neighbors," adding, "It's only going to get worse if neighbors don't work together."
Arline DeSanctis, field deputy to Wachs, urged the board to deny permits for the club because she said that any change in the use of the storefront building from a retail shop to an assembly hall is inconsistent with the community plan, which recommends only retail and office uses.
Need for Permits
However, zoning laws, cited Tuesday by the appeals board, allow an assembly hall in the commercial zone where the club is located. The city is revising its zoning laws to conform to community plans, as required by state law, but the zoning for that area has not been changed.
Special permits are needed to serve alcohol and allow dancing. The club lacks the on-site parking usually required for such permits, so it applied for a variance from parking requirements.
The action by the zoning board granted the variance, provided that the club meets certain conditions. These include closing at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m., as the club requested, and limiting occupancy to 250 people instead of the 350 discussed in earlier plans. The variance is good for 18 months, after which the club must reapply for permits.
Ed Waite, president of the Atwater Homeowners Assn., said restrictions imposed by the zoning board are not stringent enough to satisfy neighbors.
He said the action will be appealed to the City Council, where it will first be heard by the three-member Planning and Environment Committee.
If an appeal is filed, the permits will be withheld until the council acts.