Architects for the Simon Wiesenthal Center have presented new plans for a proposed Museum of Tolerance on Pico Boulevard but nearby homeowners say the four-story building will disrupt their quiet community.
While sympathizing with the neighbors, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said Wednesday that the new design will help mitigate the institution's impact.
"There are probably 100 better places for a Holocaust museum in Southern California than the corner of Pico and Roxbury," Yaroslavsky said. "Unfortunately, they own the property at Pico and Roxbury and our job is to reconcile any conflicts that may arise."
His comments came after residents urged a hearing examiner Monday to deny approval of the latest design, which would violate a height limit of three stories, or 45 feet, for buildings on Pico Boulevard.
They said the proposed fourth story would dominate the skyline, but Yaroslavsky said the new design was "least intrusive and most responsive," since there would be no construction on two lots that abut the residential area.
Instead, a private garden has been proposed at the back of the site--an area in which the original plans envisioned a lower, more sprawling museum building.
"Yes, for this to happen there will have to be an exception (to the height limit)," Yaroslavsky said. "If the difference in having a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles is the difference between three and four stories, then the city can and should make the distinction."
The new proposal was drawn up after a year of informal talks that was preceded by Yaroslavsky's announcement that he would oppose the original plans.
The latest design calls for cars to enter the museum's three-story underground parking garage through an entrance on Pico Boulevard instead of residential Roxbury Drive. The upper floors of the building would be set back to reduce the impact of its 60-foot height, according to James Conkie, a representative of the museum's building committee.
Susan Gans, president of the Roxbury Beverwil Homeowners' Assn., said the homeowners appreciated some of the changes, but that the sheer bulk of the structure would overwhelm their neighborhood of single-story houses.
This and other objections were discussed last week in a flurry of meetings between representatives of the association, the developer and a Yaroslavsky aide, but members of the homeowner group voted Sunday to oppose the conditional-use permit that the Wiesenthal Center needs.
Gans and other residents who testified at Monday's hearing cited concerns about traffic and parking problems and said the increased security precautions at the center, including a metal detector and a 24-hour guard, made them anxious about possible terrorist attacks. The center recently sponsored a conference on the war against terrorism.
One woman said she had been frightened by a warning from the FBI that agents would be clambering on her roof during a visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to the Wiesenthal Center, which is named after a renowned Nazi-hunter.
Although they sympathize with the goals of the museum, "we don't want it here," Gans said.
"It does not belong so close to a residential community," she told hearing officer Paul Beard. "If it is approved, we urge that you do so only with the strongest possible conditions."
Beard will submit his report to the city Planning Commission on June 5.
Although representatives of the Wiesenthal Center agreed in last week's talks to limit construction hours to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the museum, once it opens, to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays, the homeowners are concerned about how the agreement will be enforced, Gans said
If they drop their opposition to the museum and the conditions promised them for doing so are then ignored, she said, "we'd be left holding the bag. Our silence would be bought at too cheap a price."
Yaroslavsky said he sympathized with the neighbors' concerns, especially because there has been a history of complaints over the private school that shares its facilities with the Wiesenthal Center.
"The neighbors are unable to distinguish between the museum and the yeshiva, and the yeshiva has been a big problem, as most schools can be," he said.
Still, he said, "if everybody will try to be reasonable, including the museum, things will work out."
Rabbi Meyer May, executive assistant to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the center, said that steps have been taken in the last year to meet the neighbors' concerns about the high school.
These included car pools to limit traffic, extra landscaping and full-time playground supervision to minimize disruption from basketball games and other student activities, he said.
In any case, May said, the project enjoys wide support despite the objections from the immediate neighbors.