In a rare departure from usual practice, the Los Angeles city Planning Commission last week approved a proposed apartment complex in Glassell Park with a condition that the developer reduce the number of units by 60%.
Planning commissioners said current zoning for the property, which would allow construction of the proposed 63-unit development, is based on an error in the community plan for the area. By a 3-2 vote last Thursday, the commission ruled that just 25 units should be built on the site--five lots at the intersection of Carlyle Street and Carlyle Place.
Commissioners said the lower density will be consistent with zoning changes they expect the city to adopt in the near future.
Property owners Leo Lowenkron and Orieta Isaac called the decision unfair and said they will ask the Los Angeles City Council to reverse it. They said their developer, Meyer Investment Properties, of Anaheim, will back out unless the city allows at least 45 units.
"We finally found a developer who was interested, we borrowed against our house, and now they are telling us we can't build," said Isaac's son, Frank Isaac. "I just can't believe it. What do we do with the land now?"
The 2 1/2-acre site now contains seven single-family homes, six owned by Lowenkron and one by Isaac.
Neighboring homeowners had protested against building the project, arguing that it would not be consistent with their community of modest, single-family homes, winding roads and hillcrest views. They want the property used for single-family homes only.
The group based its appeal on apparent inconsistencies within the Northeast Los Angeles Community Plan. The plan map shows the land zoned for medium-density development, but the accompanying text indicates that only single-family homes should be built there. City planners have debated the correct interpretation.
The commission tried to strike a balance. Planning Commissioner Bill Christopher said afterward that the decision was confusing, but he said it was an attempt to reconcile inconsistencies in the plan and to prevent changing a community which is marked for more restrictive development controls.
"This is a difficult case, I think, for the city because we rely on our general plans to guide the development of the community, but in this case the plan itself is in error," said Susan Cloke, planning deputy for city Councilwoman Gloria Molina, who has aided the homeowners in their protest.
Under city law, the commission has the power to attach conditions on a project, but those conditions generally involve such issues as street improvements and open space requirements, not fundamental changes in density. Even so, Assistant City Atty. Patricia Clemens said, the commission does have the power to make the change.
The case illustrates the confused state of development controls in the Northeast area in recent years, as apartments have sprung up in communities of older single-family homes. Much of the area is slated for more restrictive development controls. Property owners who bought land in the area with the intention of developing it are concerned that the new controls will affect the value of their investments.
The Northeast General Plan is scheduled to be revised within the next six months. The revisions--the first in 10 years--are expected to call for only single-family homes in the area. In addition, the Mt. Washington/Glassell Park Specific Plan, a more detailed plan for the area, is expected to restrict growth further when it is considered by city officials later this year.
Homeowners from the area said that if the apartments are built, it will be more difficult for city planners to downzone their neighborhood when the General Plan is revised. And Molina has given them strong support. Members of her staff have accompanied the homeowners to planning commission meetings, advising them and speaking on their behalf.
The homeowners say 63 apartments would generate too much traffic for the area's roads and add too many children to an elementary school a block from the site.
"We're trying to preserve the stable, family-oriented quality that is there," said Kathy Schiavone, a homeowner who organized the appeal. "We're just very concerned about the magnitude and density of the project. It's not called for in the area and it's simply not safe."
Lowenkron, however, said homeowner's concerns are off target.
"It's not going to be massive, big things," he said. "It's only two stories high. There'll be parking for everybody, playgrounds for the children. My God, what else can you do for them? What do they want?"