A developer said he has dropped plans to build a hotly debated 33-unit apartment project on a narrow hillside street in Mt. Washington and will settle instead for constructing six or seven single-family houses there.
"I'm not in favor of building a lot of apartments," developer Chang Lee of Downey said Tuesday. "I'll go along with the city, Planning Department and community."
Lee's decision came as a welcome surprise to a group of Mt. Washington residents who fought the proposed project for a year.
"It's wonderful. That's great news," said homeowner Louise Padden, who lives near the site.
In recent months, residents of the rustic community have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to medium- and high-density development. Another project--to build 100 detached condominiums in nearby Elyria Canyon--is also strongly opposed by grass-roots activists.
Zoned for 33 Units
Ironically, Lee's one-acre parcel at the corner of Glenalbyn Drive and Avenue 42 is zoned to permit construction of 33 units. But residents say Lee may have feared a long and protracted battle with city officials and homeowner groups.
Los Angeles Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who represents the Glenalbyn homeowners, opposed Lee's original apartment project. So did Councilman Richard Alatorre, whose district includes a slice of Mt. Washington near the proposed site. Both said a 33-unit apartment complex would overburden the area's already strained municipal services.
Members of the Mt. Washington Assn., a homeowners group, claimed that the text of the Northeast Los Angeles Community Plan contradicts the actual zoning map, and that the resulting discrepancies allowed developers to build more densely than city planners originally intended.
The group points to a passage in the community plan that states that housing should "preserve, maintain and improve existing stable single-family residential neighborhoods and . . . prevent these neighborhoods from encroachment by incompatible uses."
Residents Won Battle
Homeowners won their first round in June when a hearing examiner from the city Planning Department agreed that the text of the community plan contradicted the zoning and found the proposed apartments incompatible with the area's single-family homes.
"There's a character to Mt. Washington that needs to be preserved," Padden said. "The police here are already understaffed, the sewers are overflowing and we have substandard streets. . . . We can't support this increasing density."
Then last week, the Planning Commission deadlocked 2 to 2, with one commissioner expressing concern that a pro-homeowner decision might set a legal precedent and encourage residents throughout the city to challenge zoning laws. Another hearing was scheduled for today.
City Planner Dan O'Donnell said the commission is expected to make a consistency ruling after today's hearing, regardless of whether Lee's appeal has been dropped. But O'Donnell confirmed that Lee had agreed to kill plans for the apartments.
Builder to Live on Site
In an interview, Lee said he plans to subdivide the 51,000-square-foot parcel on Glenalbyn and build a handful of homes there. But he also wants to renovate a large house on the property and live in it himself. Built in 1914 for H. Stanley Bent, a prominent dam builder and one-time mayor of San Marino, the imposing estate has overhanging eaves and features an eclectic mix of architectural styles, including Mediterranean villa and California Craftsman. Around it, fruit trees, flowering bushes and palms grow thick and wild, testament to years of benign neglect.
Meanwhile, a General Plan amendment sponsored by Molina to down-zone a quarter-mile strip of Mt. Washington, including Lee's property, is pending at City Hall. It would affect 47 parcels bounded by Marmion Way on the south, Glenalbyn Drive on the north, Mt. Washington Drive on the west and Avenue 43 on the east.
Specifically, it would require a minimum of 6,000 square feet per house. Existing zoning in some areas requires as little as one-fourth that.
Seeks to Limit Expansions
Molina has also proposed an interim plan that would require special approval for homeowners in the affected area who want to build higher than two stories, add more than 10% to their existing homes or cover more than 40% of their lots.
Padden said a majority of the homeowners she has contacted support the plan amendment. She said a letter-writing campaign to residents has collected 600 signatures on a petition that calls for down-zoning.
Padden said she also has proposed that the city expand the plan amendment boundaries to include 17 adjacent Mt. Washington land parcels in Alatorre's district. She sent letters to all 17 and received 11 favorable responses and two negative ones, Padden said.
That area is bounded by Avenue 43 on the west, Glenalbyn Walk on the east, Marmion Way on the south and Glenmuir on the north. A spokesman for Alatorre said the councilman is considering the matter but has not seen complete plans.
Padden said she plans to attend the Planning Commission meeting today to monitor the hearing.
"At this point, I'm not sure what's gonna happen. But we want to be there."