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Keeping Memories Alive : Council Panel Approves Tolerance Museum Over Neighbors' Objections

September 25, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday approved the proposed Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles over the objections of a neighborhood group concerned about noise, parking and loss of privacy.

"We're delighted," said Rabbi Meyer May, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, sponsor of the museum. He said ground-breaking will go ahead as scheduled Dec. 7, assuming the full council approves the project as expected next month.

"We are disappointed that the city is allowing the center to be built in such a totally inappropriate and unsuitable location, but we certainly are not surprised by the committee's decision," said Susan L. Gans, president of the homeowners group.

However, she said, the neighbors feel that guarantees imposed by on the project by the city "should protect our interests as long as they are enforced, and we will certainly see to it that they are enforced."

The hearing was conducted by the the Planning and Environment Committee, whose members include Councilmen Michael Woo, Hal Bernson and Pat Russell, who did not attend.

The 2-0 vote came after a lengthy hearing at which representatives of the Roxbury-Beverwil Homeowners Assn. appealed for stricter conditions to be imposed on the project, which includes land zoned for residential use.

Plans call for a 60-foot-tall building with four floors despite its location in a zone restricted to three stories and 45 feet, but Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky told the committee that the museum would not set a precedent for commercial development.

The decision to allow a fourth story came as part of an earlier trade-off in which the Wiesenthal Center agreed to install a 100-foot-wide garden separating the building from private homes to the south, Yaroslavsky said.

"Everybody has had input into it and on the whole it's about the best arrangement we could get respecting both parties' interests," said Yaroslavsky, who recommended that most of the homeowners' last-minute changes be rejected.

He said their interests were adequately protected by 31 conditions imposed earlier by the city Planning Commission.

Those requirements were the result of several months of talks involving both sides and a staffer from his office, Yaroslavsky said.

After the meeting, the newly appointed architect for the project said the latest plans substantially reduce the size of the building.

Although the interior floor space will probably remain about 81,000 square feet, about 6,500 square feet have been trimmed from the building's overall size, architect Maxwell Starkman said.

"A lot of the issues that were addressed here already have been resolved," he said.

Starkman said the reduction in size may allow for the use of more expensive materials on the exterior.

Plans call for the $20-million museum, funded in part by a $5-million state grant, to serve as a memorial to the millions of Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis. It will also include a reference to the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turkey during World War I.

May said some of the world's best museum designers have been enlisted to plan the exhibits, which will feature electronic displays and other gadgetry.

Although the neighbors stressed that they have nothing against the idea of the proposed museum, they said they were concerned that their quiet streets would be disrupted by a flow of visitors and that the building itself would cast a shadow over their homes.

"This community has been there for 35 to 40 years," Gans said. "All of a sudden to be exposed to people 60 feet above us is just not right."

She said her group appealed the Planning Commission's ruling because it felt the commission's conditions contained loopholes that the Wiesenthal Center might take advantage of.

In the appeal, she asked that the building be limited to the originally proposed floor space of 58,000 square feet, that the 45-foot height limit be imposed, and that limits be tightened on hours of construction and hours of operation once the museum is open.

She also asked for stricter review by the Planning Commission once the project is built, but Yaroslavsky said the city's normal administrative procedures will provide adequate protection.

He warned, however, that a separate permit governing the activities of the Yeshiva University, a high school and college institution operated in conjunction with the Wiesenthal Center, will be "forcefully" examined when it comes up for review.

Neighbors have complained for years of noise, litter and parking problems caused by students at the school, but May said steps have been taken to improve the situation.

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