A Los Angeles city zoning administrator has ruled that construction of a small hotel in a residential section of Harbor City, halted by officials two months ago because of a dispute over the project's building permit, should be allowed to continue.
The ruling Monday was a setback for residents of the tree-lined neighborhood, known as The Pines, who have fought for several months to block construction of the 10-unit hotel and, before that, an apartment building that was proposed for the site. Homeowners say a multi-unit building will destroy the single-family character of the neighborhood.
Gail Gordon, an attorney hired by the residents, said the group will appeal the ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals within two weeks. City officials said work on the hotel, which was stopped in April shortly after ditches were dug for the foundation, cannot resume until the appeals board makes a ruling, which usually takes about two months.
"We're disappointed, but we haven't laid down and died yet," said Walt Bethurem, who has lived in the neighborhood 35 years. "We are in there fighting. We still have people calling up wanting to know where the donation should be mailed to pay for the lawyer."
The hotel's developer, Bill Freeman, said he intends to finish the project as soon as possible. Freeman said he is losing more than $1,200 a day on the property, at 1615 West 262nd St.
"I have roughly $200,000 out there, and it is all of my money other than the investments I have in the building I live in and another small building I have," Freeman said. "Of course I am going to go forward."
Freeman decided to build the hotel after his plans for an apartment building were turned down because of a moratorium on apartment construction imposed by the Los Angeles City Council on the communities of Harbor City and Wilmington.
In the ruling released Monday, Associate Zoning Administrator John J. Parker Jr. said the city's Department of Building and Safety erred April 14 when it ordered Freeman to stop construction on the hotel.
The department had asserted that a building permit for the hotel was issued improperly because the property, while zoned for commercial use, had been designated for low-density residential development in the 1970 Wilmington-Harbor City District Plan.
Los Angeles is required by state law to bring its zoning in line with its district plans. Building permits for projects that are inconsistent with those plans can be issued only after a special review and hearing process.
But Parker, who held a hearing on the dispute three weeks ago, said the 1970 district plan map is "ambiguous" regarding the property. According to his reading of the map, the boundary between commercial and residential uses actually falls in the middle of the the 62-foot-wide property. Parker concluded that city planners never intended to divide the lot into two land-use categories, leaving him with the task of deciding which land use was intended.
In cases where the district plan map is unclear, he said, other guidelines, such as zoning boundaries, must be considered. He concluded that the 1970 map "matches very well" the existing zoning designations, which identify the property and two adjacent parcels as commercial.
'Would Be Speculation'
"Any other interpretation of the plan map would be speculation by the administrator as to original intent or logic," Parker wrote in the ruling.
As an aside to his decision, Parker sympathized with the area residents who oppose the hotel, saying that the 262nd Street location "would not appear to be a logical location for a commercially oriented hotel project." Parker emphasized, however, that his ruling could not be based on the "desirability or logic" of constructing a hotel in the neighborhood.