Saying a homeowners' group may have waited too long to file its complaint, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday refused to halt work on three Westwood Village apartment house projects that were exempted under a building moratorium.
The North Westwood Village Residents Assn. had filed suit earlier in the day in an attempt to block a handful of developers from building luxury apartment buildings under exemptions from the 9-month-old moratorium on new construction in the village.
The association asked Judge Warren Deering to issue a ban on all new construction until the city studies the environmental consequences of allowing exceptions to the moratorium.
5 Exemptions Granted
Last December, the City Council granted five Westwood-area developers hardship exemptions, allowing them to proceed with construction plans already under way before adoption of the moratorium, which was intended to check the rapid pace of development until city officials can prepare a new long-range plan for the community.
Between the time that city officials first signaled their intent to cut back on development and when the moratorium was adopted last August, developers razed more than 30 apartment buildings, displacing about 1,000 tenants and bringing increased traffic and congestion to the area, association President Bob Breall said.
The developers who were granted exemptions envision the replacement of at least 31 "affordable" apartments with 300 new luxury apartments, the group said in its suit.
But developers who appeared at Tuesday's hearing said they were granted the exemptions because they had already spent thousands of dollars on their projects before the moratorium took effect.
In most cases, tenants have long since been evicted, and in some cases, preliminary demolition work is under way, attorney Burt Pines argued on behalf of developer Eugene St. John, who began demolition of 22 apartment units several days ago to make way for a 128-unit, four-story luxury complex.
Attorney Dan Stormer, representing the homeowners, argued that granting the exemptions was a discretionary act that requires an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Pines, a former city attorney, argued that an environmental assessment for exempted projects would defeat the privilege's purpose, which is to provide immediate relief to hard-pressed developers.
Stormer contended that the homeowners had not waited too long to bring the lawsuit because the council's action was not filed until Dec. 28 and the demolition permit was not issued until June 3.
Deering ruled otherwise and refused to order a halt of the building. But the judge set a July 14 hearing for a full review of the case.
Stormer acknowledged that his client has "lost the battle" to stop development in North Westwood Village but said that "we plan to win the war" against future exemptions to building moratoriums in the city.
He said that in the July 14 hearing he will ask the judge to require the city to prepare environmental impact reports before granting exemptions, a process that can take anywhere from six months to a year on each exemption.
"This would at least delay unwanted development," Stormer said. "We are optimistic that we will be able to prevent what has happened in North Westwood Village, where traffic, parking and other problems associated with dense development is ruining a nice community."