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Residents Fight Plan : They Don't Want Church in Their Piece of Heaven

February 21, 1988|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

When Constance Danielson leaves work in Century City, she faces a 45-minute commute through what she disparagingly refers to as "L.A.'s concrete jungle."

Once at home in the Hollywood Hills, just north of the Hollywood Reservoir, the concrete gives way to green knolls and winding roads. There, she says, she is overcome with a sense of great relief.

"There truly is an emotional feeling that happens as you turn that corner on Lake Hollywood Drive," Danielson said. "You take an involuntary sigh, saying, 'Oh, I have fought through another day.' "

For the second time in nearly five years, Danielson and several hundred of her neighbors in Hollywood Knolls, a residential neighborhood above Barham Boulevard and the Hollywood Freeway, have joined forces to protect their affluent community from a development they fear will destroy it.

Their adversary, as in 1983, is the Armenian General Benevolent Union, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the Armenian people.

The Armenian group owns 61 acres of prime land in the Hollywood Knolls area, which it wants to develop as a major community center. When the group first proposed the project in 1983, officials talked of spending between $10 million and $30 million for a complex of buildings, including a church, private schools, recreational facilities and a banquet hall.

That dream fizzled three years ago, when a zoning official turned down the project because of technical problems involving the group's environmental impact report. Hundreds of homeowners opposed the development because of fears that it would ruin the character of the single-family community and bring intolerable levels of traffic and noise. The property is zoned for single-family homes.

Now, the union has asked the city for permission to divide the undeveloped hillside land into two parcels--one about seven acres and the other 54 acres. Parsegh Kartalian, director of the union's western district, said the union wants to sell the smaller portion, which includes a large grassy knoll near the Hollywood Freeway, to the Armenian Church of North America.

Kartalian said he did not know what the church plans to do with the property, and a spokeswoman for the church's western diocese in Hollywood declined to comment on the proposed sale.

Documents filed with the city's Department of Building and Safety on behalf of the Armenian union, however, mention building a church on the smaller parcel, and Dan Riffe, president of the Hollywood Knolls Community Club, said union representatives discussed the proposed church at a meeting with homeowner leaders several weeks ago.

City planning officials also said they have become aware of the church proposal. In December, the deputy advisory agency, a branch of the Planning Department that must approve parcel map requests, rejected the union's request to split the property because of the possible church development.

"The parcel map is premature and until a specific project with the full impacts (is) addressed, the division of the site cannot be approved," the agency report said. The report described the property as "a pivotal site in this sensitive undeveloped hillside area" and said traffic, geological and other studies would be necessary before the property could be divided to allow for construction of a church.

The union has appealed the agency's ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which will hear the case Tuesday. Kartalian said splitting the property into two parcels should not depend on future development plans. He said the split is intended solely to allow the union to sell the smaller parcel to the Armenian Church.

"If anyone plans to build anything on it, then a special permit would be requested from the city," Kartalian said. "That is when any objection should come."

The city has received more than 150 letters from residents opposed to the parcel split, many of whom fear that the request represents a new tack by the Armenian group in its bid to build a community center. Herbert Murez, a seven-year resident of the area, said the group is trying to build the complex one building at a time--with the church coming first.

"What they couldn't get in one clean swoop, they are attempting to get incrementally," Murez said in an interview.

Kartalian acknowledged that the union still would like to develop the property as a community center, but he said that hope is unrelated to the parcel division request. He said there is also a possibility the union will sell the larger parcel. Several developers interested in building single-family homes have approached the union, but Kartalian said "nothing has been finalized."

Riffe said residents would not oppose single-family homes as long as the development conformed with city regulations that restrict hillside construction. In fact, Riffe said, some residents are eager to see the land developed because of vandalism and other problems. .

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