George Boiadjian and his three brothers say they are just shoemakers with a dream. But to a group of Eagle Rock residents, that dream is on a collision course with efforts to limit development in their neighborhood.
Fifteen years after emigrating, literally destitute, from Soviet Armenia and 10 years after settling in the quiet, suburban community, Boiadjian and his brothers have proposed building a small shopping center on the site of their shoe repair store.
Boiadjian--the family's spokesman--and his brothers pooled their money to buy the building that houses their small shop, "George's Shoe Comfort," at 2061 Colorado Blvd. The 1922 masonry building and the land on which it sits are their first major investment since they came to the United States. There are six commercial spaces, three of them occupied by an optometrist, a commercial photographer and the shoe repair business. The remaining spaces are vacant.
Fits Mini-Mall Definition
But the shopping center the Boiadjians plan--a two-story, 5,500-square-foot building with parking in front--fits the Los Angeles City Council's definition of a mini-mall. It is thus banned under a moratorium on the building of mini-malls passed by the council last year.
The moratorium will be in effect until a specific plan to limit growth is drawn up for the area.
The Armenian emigres, who bought the property six months before the moratorium was passed, say they are being penalized by a law they knew nothing about.
Residents say the Boiadjians' request for a hardship exemption--the first since the moratorium went into effect in June--would set a precedent for the kind of development they believe is ruining Colorado Boulevard. The boulevard, lined with older buildings now increasingly interspersed with shopping centers and other newer developments, has become the focus of community efforts to stop development.
For two consecutive Thursday evenings, Boiadjian has argued his case for a hardship exemption before the Eagle Rock Citizen's Advisory Committee. The 11-member committee was formed in January to help city planners develop the area's specific plan.
But because Boiadjian's request must be addressed now, while that plan is still in its preliminary stages, City Councilman Richard Alatorre decided to submit the matter to the citizens group for recommendation. Eventually, the matter will be considered by the City Council.
In the small, white-pillared Eagle Rock City Hall both evenings, Boiadjian and his brothers were surrounded by more than 50 residents opposed to their plan.
On one evening, residents picketed outside, holding signs reading "Preserve the Community," "Malled Again? Nooo!" and "Planned Growth is the Answer."
Inside, discussion often broke into shouts as the battle over Boiadjian's plans became a heated discussion about the future of Eagle Rock and the meaning of democracy.
"This is America and, in America, little people who can't afford to build mini-malls can stand up to preserve their community," Eagle Rock resident Kathleen Aberman said.
But Boiadjian had a different perspective.
"This is not Russia," he said at the meeting. "It's worse than Russia. Your own property isn't yours to do with as you wish. Someone else wants control."
Boiadjian said his family's investment could be endangered if he loses the opportunity to develop the property. Last month, the city ordered him to demolish the building on the site or bring it up to earthquake standards. He said bringing it up to code, estimated by his architect to cost $150,000, is not feasible.
The building is one of more than 20 pre-1933 masonry structures along Colorado Boulevard that face renovation or replacement under the city's earthquake ordinance, said Jeanmarie Hance-Murphy, Alatorre's planning deputy.