The owner of 61 acres of prime land above the Hollywood Reservoir has been given two months to meet with neighbors and Los Angeles planning officials to come up with a plan to develop the property, which has been the center of debate in the Hollywood Hills for nearly five years.
The Armenian General Benevolent Union, owner of the property, wants to divide the land into two parcels so that it can sell the smaller one to the Armenian Church of America. The division of the parcel has been opposed by nearby homeowners and a city planning agency because of uncertainty about what the church would do with its smaller parcel, which is zoned for single-family homes but is being considered for a cathedral.
The Los Angeles Board of Zoning Appeals, which heard the case Tuesday, decided to sidestep the division issue, voting to send the case back to the Deputy Advisory Agency, the planning body that rejected the request in December. The appeals board instructed the Armenian group to meet with neighbors and agency officials within 60 days to see if they can agree on how the entire 61 acres should be developed.
"Show your cards, and let's get this all done," board member James D. Leewong told representatives of the Armenian group. "If it is going to be a church, then let's deal with it on the basis of it being a church."
If the Armenian organization, the neighbors and agency officials are unable to reach a consensus, the issue would return to the appeals board for a decision. At that point, the board would need to determine whether the Deputy Advisory Agency acted correctly when it rejected the parcel-division request. The board's decision could be appealed to the City Council.
The Armenian union, a nonprofit cultural and service organization, has been battling with homeowners in nearby Hollywood Knolls, east of Universal City, since 1983, when the group first proposed building a community center--including schools, recreational facilities, a church, a banquet hall and a day care center--on the property. That proposal was rejected by city zoning officials in 1985 because of technical problems involving the organization's environmental impact report.
Since then, the Armenian group has applied for the parcel division, which they say would allow them to sell seven acres while giving them time to decide what to do with the remaining 54 acres. Last week, a spokesman for the group said that it is considering selling the larger parcel to developers for single-family homes but that it has not given up the idea of building a community center there.
Nearby homeowners, who would like to see the entire property developed with single-family homes, say the parcel division is a new tactic in an old war. They say the Armenian organization is attempting to build the community center piece by piece, starting with the church. Residents fear that a church would ruin the area's country-like character and bring traffic onto residential streets.
At Tuesday's hearing, Richard Gervais of the Deputy Advisory Agency told the board that he rejected the parcel-division request because the Armenian group has been sending conflicting signals to city departments about what would be developed on the seven-acre parcel. In requesting the parcel division from the Planning Department, for example, the group did not mention a possible church development, but a separate grading proposal filed with the Department of Building and Safety did.
"There were enough departments looking at different things that I was uncomfortable," Gervais said. Later, he added: "I punted on this one. I was unclear as to what I had before me."
Representatives from the Armenian organization have acknowledged that the church would like to build a cathedral on the site, but they have argued that splitting the property into two parcels should not depend on what might be developed there. Since the church would need a conditional-use permit to build a cathedral, objections to such a development should be raised when the permit request is considered, they said.
But Pauline Amond, who represents the Armenian organization, and Dan Riffe, president of the Hollywood Knolls homeowners group, agreed Tuesday to return to the negotiating table.
The meeting had actually been proposed by Councilman Michael Woo, who represents part of the Hollywood Knolls area. Larry Kaplan, Woo's chief deputy, said in an interview that the two sides have been "arguing over abstractions" and that they needed to sit down and discuss a specific proposal for the land.
"The problem with the whole thing is that they don't have a clear idea what they want to put up there," Kaplan said. "That has raised fears of the worst on the part of the homeowners."