It did not cause a stir when several influential members of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn. began meeting informally last year to discuss ways of preserving their little piece of urban utopia in the Hollywood Hills.
But on Tuesday would-be home builders and others in the European Village style community below the Hollywood sign cried foul after an association-backed plan restricting new construction in the area won the unanimous approval of the council's Planning and Environment Committee.
Interim Control Ordinance
The plan, an interim control ordinance, will be considered by the council later this month and is expected to be approved. It would apply to all plans submitted since Feb. 18.
The restrictions--which affect such things as building heights, setbacks and roof configurations--would be in place for at least a year, until the Planning Department completes a Specific Plan for Hollywoodland that proponents say is necessary to maintain the architectural integrity of the historic community.
"I think we've been steamrolled," said Glenmore Wong, who bought a lot in Hollywoodland a year and a half ago and had hoped to start construction of his hillside home soon. "They've definitely thrown our plans up in the air."
Meanwhile, proponents of the ordinance and the as yet undrafted specific plan were ecstatic.
"We're encouraged," said Christine O'Brien, the association's president. "(The interim ordinance) is going to be a very positive thing for our neighborhood, and allow time for everyone to have an input in the specific plan."
Prevent a 'Rush'
She and other backers of the ordinance said it was necessary to prevent a "rush on building permits" by people trying to circumvent the eventual specific plan.
City planners say it will probably take six months before the specific plan is completed and another six months before the City Council approves it.
Few disagree that the issue has sharply divided residents of the pristine community at the end of Beachwood Canyon, established in 1923 as an upscale retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city below.
"Before this came up, there was a spirit of cooperation that could only be considered unusual in a community like ours," said Llandys Williams, a lifelong resident. "Now, it's like the Hatfields and McCoys up there."
Barbara Knoll, another resident, who owns three empty lots near her home, agreed.
"My husband and I have no plans to build on those lots, but we would like to reserve the right for our children to do as they please with them, and we don't like being dictated to," she said.
Supporters of tighter restrictions say the issue is whether Hollywoodland will be able to stave off what they see as the architectural decline of a community where for 40 years building covenants dictated that only European-style homes could be built.
They complain that since the covenants expired in the 1960s, the hillsides have been "inundated" with contemporary-style homes that do little to complement the Moorish mansions, Elizabethan cottages and Spanish haciendas already there.
"All we're trying to do is in some moderate way control the quality of building that is going to take place in our area," said Bob Crane, who campaigned for the plan. "Since most of the flat lots were built out a long time ago, whatever is built is going to be on the hillsides, and it's going to be crucial to the architectural compatibility of the community."
He and other supporters of increased restrictions insist that most of the opposition has come from developers and others from outside the area who have used "disinformation" in an effort to foil the plan.
"We don't feel that any lot is going to be unbuildable because of what we're trying to do," Crane said. "The ordinance contains a hardship provision. As for the specific plan, everyone will have a say. But, unfortunately, you have an element of people that have fanned the flames on this to stir up people."
However, opponents paint a different picture.
"I love Hollywoodland as much as anyone, and I think it's outrageous that a handful of people could instigate something like this and the community as a whole not know anything about it," said Nicole Moizel, a former president of the association.
Plan Was a Surprise
She and others who showed up to testify before the committee Tuesday complained that they knew nothing of the plan until last month, when they learned that the matter had been placed on the committee's agenda.
City Councilmen Michael Woo and John Ferraro, in whose districts Hollywoodland is located, have indicated their support for a specific plan. Woo sits on the Planning and Environment Committee that unanimously backed the interim ordinance.
"My husband and I saved for 10 years and just went into escrow on a lot that we paid $50,000 for in February, and then we find this out," said Deborah Smith of West Hollywood. "This is our dream that they're tampering with."
Randy Jacobson, an architect who joined the association with his wife after buying a lot in Hollywoodland, said the ordinance as it is drawn "unfairly penalizes people who want to build houses of the type that the people who are all for this thing say they want."
"I do not want to see (the specific plan) spearheaded by the (homeowners association) because I don't believe they represent a cross section of the community," he said.