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New Rules : Builder Hopes He'll Survive

July 03, 1988

WHITTIER — The way developer Charles Lawrence sees it, the situation in Whittier is like a football game.

When Lawrence purchased two lots on Dorland Street earlier this year, the rules said he could build apartments on that property. Lawrence invested about $280,000 in buying land and paying an architect to design a 10-unit, Victorian-style complex that would be compatible with homes in the area.

Then the City Council changed the rules.

First, there was a 45-day moratorium on all apartment building north of Hadley Street, with exemptions for builders whose plans had been submitted to the city. Lawrence's plans were in.

"I thought we were safe," he said.

Then a week later, the City Council replaced the moratorium with a 45-day ordinance requiring developers to clear their plans with both the Planning Commission and the council. Only developers who had already been issued building permits were guaranteed they could proceed with construction. Lawrence did not have building permits.

"That's not justifiable," said Lawrence, president of Arroyo Builders of Whittier.

"It's like playing in a football game and you're winning, and suddenly somebody decides to change the rules and you can only use five players instead of 11.

"If you don't want me to build any other (apartments), that's OK, but let me finish this game out under the rules that were in force when the game started," Lawrence said.

A longtime Whittier resident, Lawrence says he sympathizes with homeowners who favor zoning changes. But Lawrence also knows that if the city denies his Dorland Street project, his business will lose 50% of its gross revenue for the year.

"I'll probably survive, but not without having to weather a very rough period," Lawrence said.

He resents those who say financial losses are to be expected in property development because that's the nature of the industry.

"I realize I'm in a risk-taking business," he said, "but when the rules change in mid-course, it becomes an activity that is something greater than a risky business."

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