After more than a year of talks that broke down into bitter personal recriminations, neighbors of the proposed Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles are appealing to the City Council to block construction of the four-story building.
"Our principal objection is that the proposed 81,000-square-foot building is too massive for the site," said Susan L. Gans, president of the Roxbury-Beverwil Homeowners Assn., who will present her case to the council's Planning and Environment Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who opposed the original design for the museum but now supports a revised version, is expected to argue for the project to go ahead, aides said.
Although previous negotiations yielded an agreement to set the building back 100 feet from the nearest homes, Gans said the project would still be "too close to the adjacent residences and a very serious encroachment into our single-family residential neighborhood."
She asked the council to overturn a June 5 decision by the Planning Commission, which approved zoning exemptions on the basis that the project would benefit the whole city.
In addition to the setback from nearby homes, the commission required that all automobile access be from busy Pico Boulevard instead of quieter residential streets and that the south end of the property be developed as a landscaped garden.
The conditions will mitigate possible traffic problems, according to a report by the Department of City Planning, which said the museum "would provide a valuable educational resource for the community."
It recommended that the council deny the residents' appeal.
Sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an institution named after the Austrian-based Nazi hunter, the museum is intended to serve as a memorial to millions of Jews and members of other minority groups who were killed in Europe during World War II.
The state has approved a $5-million allocation to help pay for the $20-million project, funding for which is 85% complete, according to Alan I. Casden, chairman of the museum's building committee.
While generally supporting the idea of a museum, opponents have argued that it will set a bad precedent at the corner of Pico Boulevard and Roxbury Drive because the latest plans call for a four-story building in an area with a three-story height limit.
They said the Planning Commission's decision to grant an exemption that would allow residentially zoned property to be used for the museum was wrong as well.
"The question of encroachment of commercial property into residential neighborhoods is being encountered in many areas of the Westside as vacant commercial property becomes very scarce," said William R. Christopher, president of the Westside Civic Federation, an umbrella group made up of 14 neighborhood organizations.
Esther Brenner, president of the Beverly Angeles Homeowners Assn., which represents the area just west of the proposed museum, said the building was "totally inappropriate," especially since separate plans call for construction of an apartment project across the street.
"We maintain that traffic analysis is inadequate and incorrect and does not reflect the cumulative impact," she said.
Casden's construction firm is building the apartment project, to be known as Hillcrest Manor, but he said in an interview that the two projects have nothing to do with each other. Because of existing zoning, the city's approval is not needed for the apartment project to go ahead.
As for the objections to the museum project, Casden said "they're without any basis in fact . . . and their appeal is without merit."
He said that the issues have been considered in public hearings and by the Planning Commission, and that the project has been redesigned "to completely ameliorate the concerns of the neighborhood, at great cost to a not-for-profit organization, at least a quarter of a million dollars."
In any case, he said, "we cannot move the project from where it is. We own the land and we've spent an awful lot of money, and we think it's the proper place to be, in the center of a population zone where people will visit the exhibits. We do not put a museum where people will not go to it."
He said Gans was speaking for only a few homeowners, and charged that she twice broke agreements reached in negotiations that were carried out with the participation of staffers from Yaroslavsky's office.
The latest appeal is "highly irregular," he said. But Gans said that Casden "has done nothing to instill any confidence in neighborhood residents that he or any of the center's representatives gives a damn what happens to our community."
She cited the Wiesenthal Center's recent decision to change architects, since the designs presented at a public hearing in June would now be "out the window."