San Fernando Valley homeowner Dean Jeffries and his neighbors hope that what goes up, at least in part, must come down.
The Studio City hillside residents are demanding that the top two floors of a seven-story office building under construction next to them be knocked off.
Jeffries said he thought a 45-foot building was going up next door. The building permit issued by the city specified that the height would be three stories, or 45 feet.
But Jeffries and his wife, Rosalee, contend that a loophole in the city's building code has allowed the building to reach 95 feet--and to block his spectacular view of the Valley. Residents warn that hillside lots throughout Los Angeles could sprout similarly tall buildings unless city laws are tightened. Currently, builders can exceed the 45-foot limit on lots where the slope is greater than 20 feet from the front of the lot to the back.
The Studio City height dispute is being watched by other developers who are anxious to build on steep slopes that run for several miles along the south side of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, said Polly Ward, president of the Studio City Residents Assn.
Other areas of the city with underdeveloped hillsides also are vulnerable, Studio City residents say.
"Every part of the city that has hills is involved," said Daniel M. Shapiro, a lawyer representing some of the homeowners in the battle.
Homeowners today will take their eight-month fight against the $4.3-million Fairway Building, at the southeast corner of Fairway Avenue and Ventura Boulevard, to the city's Building and Safety Commission.
On Monday, homeowners won a partial victory when city building and safety officials issued a stop-work order on the structure. City inspectors said they erred in allowing construction of a rooftop elevator shaft enclosure. They said the enclosure probably will be removed.
The residents are being supported by City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents a portion of Studio City. He has called for the removal of the top two floors of the building--an order city officials say would be unprecedented in the city.
The Fairway Building is "such an example of hideously out-of-scale development that it's justified for us to call for some kind of major change--in this case lopping off the top floors of the project," Woo said earlier this month.
In the meantime, Studio City leaders have urged Woo and their community's other two council representatives, Joel Wachs and John Ferraro, to change the way the city calculates the height of new buildings on hillsides.
Developers now can divide a building into several parts and then measure each part's height separately. In addition, they can add a 12-foot height "bonus" to each part because of sloping lots. Basements are not counted as part of the final height.
The Fairway Building's developers have divided it into three parts and built four basement levels into the dug-out slope below Jeffries' home of 14 years. Atop the stack of four basements are three floors of office space, plus the elevator enclosure.
Jeffries said the workers assured him that the office would only be three stories high--right up to the day last December when they started erecting steel beams that soon reached 95 feet above Ventura Boulevard.
To Jeffries' dismay, the top two floors of the building towered above his house. When the 175-foot-wide building's walls were enclosed, they totally blocked what had been a spectacular view of the Valley.
"They'd never let me look at their plans," said Jeffries, a Hollywood car customizer who built the Red Car trolley featured in the recent movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"
"They just said 'Don't worry.' When the steel went up, we called our lawyer and went straight to court."
Jeffries hoped to argue that the height violated a 1980 court settlement that set a six-story limit on the site and that it violated the intent of a 1986 moratorium that limits construction along the Valley's Ventura Boulevard to three stories. The moratorium is also subject to the city's height bonuses on sloped lots.
But by the time Jeffries got to court two months later, he was too late.
"Tearing down a building that is 70% complete is inappropriate," said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Miriam Vogel, who refused Feb. 26 to place a preliminary injunction on developer Eitan Gonen.
Two Others Sue
After that, two of Jeffries' neighbors, Charles Bernuth and Michael Minkow, filed a similar suit against Gonen. They also filed an appeal with the city that set the stage for today's Building and Safety Commission hearing.
For his part, Gonen has maintained that the structure is a three-story building. He has refused to discuss his neighbors' complaints, except to say "they still have a beautiful view."
His architect, Jack Hollander, has disputed Woo's assessment of the project. "The building speaks for itself. I'm proud of it," Hollander said.