The owner of the 50-foot boulder from which the community of Eagle Rock gets its name said this week that he is negotiating with Los Angeles officials who want to buy the rock and the land around it for a park.
But the owner's cooperation may not signal the end to a yearlong battle waged by city officials and Eagle Rock residents to block development near the historic rock.
Kenneth Bank, a Beverly Hills developer who has entered into an escrow agreement to buy the land from Fred Heim, said he has a right to close the sale on the property. He has filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Heim for interfering with the escrow agreement and said he intends to build six or seven single-family homes on the site.
The dispute between Bank and Heim surfaced last week after the Los Angeles Planning Commission rejected the developer's plan to build a 2-story apartment building on the 2.6-acre parcel.
Bank said he does not intend to appeal the decision. Instead, he said he will modify his plans and build what the site is zoned for--single-family homes.
"It is not intended as blackmail," Bank said. "The commission has denied my zone change. That's fine. I won't appeal it. I'll just roll with the punches and build a bunch of single-family homes."
Bradley in Opposition
Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilman Richard Alatorre have opposed development on the site, where the massive boulder perches above the Ventura Freeway. In June, the two pledged to find city funds or help raise private money to buy the site.
Told of the developer's latest plan, Alatorre's press deputy, Brad Sales, said: "We'd fight that, yes, of course. There are certain things that could be done to make it difficult to build."
"My conversations so far have been with Mr. Heim, who is the legal owner of that property," Alatorre said. Of the developer's plan, he said: "Bank isn't going to get that through."
And community activists, who have circulated petitions, organized rallies and shown up in force at every City Hall hearing regarding Bank's plan, expressed skepticism.
"If he wants to pay all that money for that property and just build a few houses on it, good luck to him," Katie Smith, president of the Eagle Rock Assn., said with a chortle after the Planning Commission vote Sept. 1. "We'll buy it from him when he goes bankrupt."
The commission voted 3 to 0 against granting the zone change to Bank. Last week, the city began an appraisal of the site.
"I do think we'll be able to come up with the money," Sales said.
Bank filed his lawsuit against Heim on July 13 in Los Angeles Superior Court, said Bank's attorney, Alan M. Mund. But the suit was served on Heim only last week, Bank said. The developer contends that Heim is reneging on the year-old escrow agreement.
"He feels he has no obligation to me any longer," Bank said Tuesday. "However, that is not the way the contract reads."
Heim began negotiating with the city about the property in June.
"It's a very good possibility that if the city does want to move forward and acquire the property, we could work out a price," said Heim's attorney, Joan A. Wolff. "We are trying to work out some mutually acceptable solution to this."
The fate of the rock and the land surrounding it near the border of Eagle Rock and Pasadena has become a community rallying point since Bank announced plans to buy the property and build an apartment building on its southeastern flank.
Many residents have opposed the project, contending that it threatens the identity of their small community.
The southwest portion of the rock is a sheer cliff with an indentation in its face that produces an eagle-shaped shadow in the afternoon.
The entire rock formation was declared a historical monument in 1982 by the city's Cultural Heritage Board but was not acquired by the city.
The Planning Commission recommendation will go to the City Council, which is expected to uphold the decision.