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Zoning Quirk Locks Out Landowners From Selling

October 22, 1987|BOB POOL | Times Staff Writer

After 35 years in her tiny Sherman Oaks home, 83-year-old Rosary Ruisi is being forced by her health problems to move to New York to live with her daughter.

So it was with reluctance that Ruisi carefully arranged her belongings in front of her house the other day and tacked up a yard sale sign. "Everything is to go," it read.

Everything except the house, it turns out.

To Ruisi's dismay, a 6-year-old apparent mix-up by Los Angeles officials is preventing her from selling the two-bedroom home that she has long looked upon as her retirement nest egg.

Instead of being snapped up for development by eager apartment builders, as houses along Vista Del Monte Avenue have been in the past, Ruisi's land can only be used as a parking lot, according to the city.

No Parking-Lot Builders

Unhappily for Ruisi, there are no parking-lot builders knocking down her door to buy her out.

"It isn't right," said Phil Ruisi, of Camarillo, who is helping his mother move. "The city has basically condemned this land."

Real estate agent Al Gatto said he had lined up an apartment developer to buy Ruisi's house. But he said the deal fell through when he made a routine check with the city and learned of the parking zoning.

"I was shocked," Gatto said Wednesday. "I couldn't believe it. I had a builder ready to buy it for $200,000 and put in seven units."

Property owners along Vista Del Monte between the Ventura Freeway and Hortense Street say nine parcels are affected by a 1981 city action that quietly stripped away the multiple-family residential zoning designation from the east side of the street.

They claim that city officials failed to notify them of the new parking lot designation, either before or after the parking plan went into effect.

Barbara Drayman, a legal secretary who has owned three rental units behind her house for nearly 14 years, said she learned of the rezoning by accident in 1985.

"I decided to sell because I was tired from doing all the upkeep myself on my rentals," said Drayman, 55. "My realtor checked the zoning and called me back and said he had bad news."

Drayman said she was told that she could not legally re-rent her units when they became vacant and she could not rebuild if the World War II-era duplexes caught fire.

Investment to Zero

"My investment went from $350,000 in value to zero," she said. "I'm at the mercy of someone over on Van Nuys Boulevard who may or may not ever want to build a parking lot behind his business."

For two years, Drayman said, she has repeatedly tried to get the city to overturn the parking zoning and return her lot's R-3 designation, first imposed in the late 1940s.

She said officials at first suggested that she apply for a waiver, called an "additional authority," that would allow development of a 12-unit apartment house on her lot. "But they told me it would require a $2,000 fee and it would probably be a waste of my money," Drayman said.

After that, Drayman said, she sought help from City Councilman Joel Wachs, who formerly represented the area. Then she sought help from the late Councilman Howard Finn, chairman of the council's Planning Committee, and then from Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who began representing Sherman Oaks last year.

Penelope Simison, a Yaroslavsky aide who has investigated the situation, said city officials apparently approved the change after deciding that the east side of Vista Del Monte should be used to relieve congestion on nearby Van Nuys Boulevard.

She speculated that they may have felt there was a greater need for parking lots in the area. "There wasn't a housing shortage at the time. That came later."

City planner Robert Duenas described the 1981 parking designation as a zoning map "overlay" that has been depicted on Sherman Oaks-Studio City-Toluca Lake District Plan land-use maps since October of that year. He said he does not know why Drayman, Ruisi and others on the street did not know of the Planning Commission and City Council hearings held at the time.

"I couldn't say why the parking overlay was assigned," he said. "The procedure was to have public hearings. Public notices would be sent out, I'm sure."

City planning officials said a 1985 court ruling required the city to review all zoning to ensure that zoning maps were consistent with actual land uses. However, they said Vista Del Monte was inadvertently omitted from Sherman Oaks-area parcels reviewed April 21 by the City Council.

Correcting Oversight

Duenas said the planning staff will recommend that the Vista Del Monte area be zoned for apartments when the City Council corrects that oversight. The council will probably take up the case in March, he said.

Until then, however, "unfortunately, we can't issue a building permit there for anything other than parking," he said.

Vista Del Monte landowners say damage has already been done to their street by the mix-up. Two commercial parking lots already have been built among the homes and apartments. One graffiti-decorated parking area is next to Ruisi's house.

Ruisi, meanwhile, is scheduled to move to Monroe, N.Y., on Nov. 4.

"The city just doesn't care," said her daughter, Dorothy Sprague. "They're taking advantage of little old ladies."

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