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Judge Backs Veterans' Bar : La Crescenta: A suit filed by opponents of the VFW's and American Legion's plan is rejected. The state is expected to deny the application.

May 23, 1991|LORI GRANGE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two veterans groups this week overcame one legal obstacle and learned that they probably will face another in a yearlong battle to jointly open a private bar at a La Crescenta memorial hall.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Huss on Monday rejected a lawsuit filed by residents trying to block the bar. Huss ruled that Glendale officials properly granted a zoning variance that will allow Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1614 and American Legion Post 288 to operate a canteen at the Verdugo Hills Memorial Hall, 4011 La Crescenta Ave.

The legion has occupied the hall since 1934, but is not licensed to sell alcohol. The VFW post, facing decreasing membership, wants to move from a rented commercial building on nearby Honolulu Avenue into the legion hall and bring its liquor license along.

"That is our rightful home," said Terry Maynard, VFW post commander. "It's only natural that another veterans group wants to move into the hall."

Despite Huss' ruling, the groups may soon return to court. An administrator for the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which must approve transfer of the liquor license, said Monday that he will deny the request because of the residents' concerns.

The veterans would have to appeal that decision to an administrative court judge, said Thomas J. Feeley, an attorney representing the VFW. That process--or an appeal by residents of Huss' ruling--could delay their plans for at least several months, Feeley said.

"The organization certainly has a right to a club license," he said after the Superior Court hearing. "The question with ABC would be whether the neighbors' protest has any validity . . . and those arguments were not persuasive here today."

The lawsuit was filed by Sharon Olsen, who lives down the street from the memorial hall and spearheaded opposition to the veterans' plans. She and other residents, who are represented by former Glendale City Atty. Frank R. Manzano, claim that their children will be threatened by veterans who drink and drive.

"Needless to say, we're devastated by the ruling," Olsen said. "I truly believe the neighborhood will lose if the bar goes in there."

Olsen said she and her supporters have not yet decided whether to appeal Huss' ruling. They are hoping that the ABC will prevent the private bar from opening, she said.

The residents, who organized fund-raising drives, newsletters and a candlelight vigil to bolster their cause, charge that the club would cause parking and traffic problems and lower property values in the area.

The legion hall, which sits on a small lot next door to a church, is between Piedmont and Manhattan avenues, both residential streets with more than 50 young children, according to Olsen. A women's club, a ballet school and apartment complexes line the other side of La Crescenta Avenue, a moderately busy thoroughfare.

But the veterans groups, with a total membership of about 330, say they may not survive unless they combine resources at one facility and open the private bar to attract members.

The hall has been operating as a legal nonconforming facility since 1952, when the area was zoned by Glendale for housing. The posts asked the city in February, 1990, for a variance that would allow them to open the bar at the hall.

Several zoning officials separately approved the request, and Olsen appealed their decisions to the City Council. The council in December voted 4 to 1 to grant the variance. Two months later, Olsen filed suit.

Manzano told the judge Monday that the council violated zoning laws by allowing veterans to expand the use of their hall with a bar. An ordinance that Manzano wrote as city attorney prohibits the expansion of a facility already deemed to be nonconforming to zoning in the area, he said.

But City Atty. Scott H. Howard argued successfully that although facilities deemed legal but nonconforming generally cannot expand their activities, they can apply for variances to do so.

In approving the variance, the City Council limited the canteen's hours to 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays. The council also required the groups to maintain an alcohol abuse education program, post signs concerning drunk driving laws and install walls to separate the legion hall's parking lot from the neighborhood.

Leaders of the veterans groups said only members and guests would be allowed in the private club. The bar would have the same "calm, gentle atmosphere" as the VFW's facility on Honolulu Avenue, where men and women play cribbage, pool and shuffleboard, Maynard said.

"They think we're going to have wild, wild parties and wild women, like a public bar," said Bob Jackson, a VFW quartermaster and a service officer for the American Legion post. "But this would be a private club. We had to fight a war to be eligible to belong."

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