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No Windfall for Retirees : Homeowners Angered as Zoning Shift Cuts Prices

November 01, 1987|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

If you drive along DeLongpre Avenue in Hollywood, you will see a neighborhood of older but well-tended houses. Many of the residents here are senior citizens who have owned their homes for as long as 30 years.

But "For Sale" signs stand in several front yards. These residents want to sell to developers who would raze the neighborhood and put up apartment buildings.

The developers, for their part, had offered up to $250,000 a parcel for these properties. The residents of DeLongpre hoped to take the money and retire to places such as Reno and Fort Lauderdale.

Those hopes have been dashed. A year and a half ago, an army of Hollywood residents rose up to voice the fear that their neighborhoods were being overrun by developers. City officials responded by changing the zoning in many areas to prohibit apartment buildings.

Although hailed as a victory for the people, for the residents of DeLongpre, there was a flip side to this success story. The developers withdrew their offers. What had been attractive sites for construction became merely homes worth no more than $150,000.

So these dozen or so residents are waging a bitter, and, thus far, futile, battle to reverse the zoning change. They have sent petitions to city officials. They have spoken out at public meetings. Their voices have been drowned out by public sentiment.

"We've still got a 'For Sale' sign up front but that doesn't mean anything. With the money I can get for my house now, I can't move anywhere," said Stan Krakowiak, a retired businessman who has lived on DeLongpre for 35 years. "The whole block has signs up, but that means nothing now."

"This isn't fair to old-timers who have lived here a lifetime," said a 76-year-old resident who asked not to be named. "We were just waiting for our property values to go up so we could sell our houses and live off that money."

The story of Krakowiak and his neighbors began in the winter of 1985, when arguments raged over what to do with Hollywood.

Rising Property Values

City officials were preparing a $922-million plan to restore Hollywood by attracting developers and new construction. Enthusiasm over redevelopment drove property values upward in places like DeLongpre Avenue.

"They were all very excited about having some developer pay them tremendous sums of money," said Michael Collins, a real estate agent who handles property in the neighborhood.

At about this time, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, entrusted with restoring Hollywood, conducted an extensive study. The agency found that the DeLongpre neighborhood had the greatest concentration of single-family homes in Hollywood.

"What we heard from the community was that they wanted to preserve the existing single-family character of the area," said Len Betz, an agency official. "To accomplish this, we recommended that housing densities be reduced."

And, at the same time, City Councilman Michael Woo was facing public uproar about rampant development in Hollywood. He subsequently vowed to protect single-family neighborhoods.

Protecting Community

Woo said he took this stand for two reasons. First, more apartment buildings would mean more traffic and parking congestion. Second, he reasoned, new buildings would drive up rents in neighborhoods where many families could not afford higher rents.

Perhaps the only opposition to downzoning came from absentee landlords and homeowners who wanted to sell and move out, Duncan said. There were protests from DeLongpre and from neighborhoods near Lexington and Fountain Avenues.

In the end, city officials decided to severely limit apartment-building construction on DeLongpre Avenue.

"It's a difficult decision for the City Council to make," Duncan said. "It's a balance and balancing is not easy."

Community activists praised the decision.

"How could you put up these buildings with traffic and parking the way it is?" said Brian Moore, a Whitley Heights homeowner. "It just wouldn't wash."

Duncan said he has since talked with unhappy homeowners from the DeLongpre neighborhood. And, he said, their concerns will be addressed as the city re-studies Hollywood zoning. But, he thinks it unlikely that DeLongpre Avenue will be zoned for apartment buildings.

"I don't think there is any chance," Duncan said. "There is an overriding concern about high-density housing in Hollywood."

Still, the small pocket of disgruntled homeowners continues to fight. They recently sent a letter of protest to Woo and have repeatedly telephoned his office. They will attend yet another public zoning hearing in November.

While the struggle over Hollywood's restoration continues, these residents have most probably been left behind. One man has vowed revenge against Woo.

"I had a stroke, you know," said Leos Carnikas, 56, a retired waiter. "But when I get well, I am going to go door-to-door. I am going to have Woo recalled."

Carnikas stands in front of his three-bedroom home. The yard is meticulously landscaped. There are lemon and tangerine trees and rose bushes lining the walk.

"He knows nothing about us," Carnikas said. "I want to show to him that I have worked all my life for this property. Today, nobody wants it."

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