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Planners Tentatively OK Mansion : Development: Original plan of 59,000 square feet has been scaled back to 36,000, but neighbors still vow to oppose the huge estate before the City Council.


BEVERLY HILLS — Minus the raucous crowds and handful of celebrities who initially followed the dispute, the city's Planning Commission last week gave preliminary approval to a scaled-back version of what was once a 59,000-square-foot estate proposed for the hills of Beverly Hills by London resident Robert Manoukian.

The commission's action gave tentative approval to a 36,000-square-foot estate. The project calls for a main house of 27,126 square feet, servants' quarters of about 8,000 square feet connected by a corridor to the main house, an existing garage of 604 square feet and no guardhouse. Also included in the plans is a 10,718-square-foot basement, which under city code is not calculated into square footage.

In exchange for its approval, the commission saddled the project with an array of more than 40 environmental mitigation measures and 17 conditions. The conditions include a prohibition against any additional buildings on the property, a limit that restricts the number of parties to no more than four per year with 200 guests, and a $100,000 bond to ensure that the dense landscaping shielding the home from outside view is maintained.

Despite the changes and conditions, opponents of the estate have said they plan to continue to fight it.

Manoukian, a part-time resident of Beverly Hills, had originally hoped to build a classic, two-story mansion with pediments and a copper roof. The 41,000-square-foot main residence would have had 14 bedrooms, a ballroom, a gym and a theater. A six-bedroom guardhouse and a five-bedroom guest villa were also envisioned for the four-acre property at 1146 Tower Road.

Manoukian, according to his attorneys, had maintained a home in the city for 14 years and owned several other residences, but he wanted to create a park-like estate in the hills for his 17-member extended family.

The adage "a man's home is his castle" created difficulty with Manoukian's equally wealthy neighbors when Manoukian's attorneys submitted plans for a home that measured four to eight times the size of surrounding homes in the city's exclusive northwest corner above Sunset Boulevard.

The estate, which was to be built in two years on three lots that Manoukian had purchased, has been fervently opposed by Stuart Ketchum, a longtime resident. Ketchum, a real estate investor-developer for whom the downtown Los Angeles YMCA is named, became the spokesman for a group of hillside residents fighting the luxurious estate.

Members of the group, including such luminaries as actor Jack Lemmon and MCA President Sidney J. Sheinberg, argued at public meetings that a full environmental impact study was needed to evaluate a mansion that they believed was out of scale and character for the neighborhood. They also contended that it would bring months and perhaps years of construction noise and traffic to the narrow, winding streets.

With Ketchum and a small group of opponents of the project watching from one side of the City Council Chambers, and attorneys and consultants for Manoukian on the other, the Planning Commission requested final documents needed to approve the project at the panel's April 12 meeting. Commissioner Rose Norton cast the sole vote against the revamped proposal; commissioners Jerry Magnin, Paul Selwyn and Hamid Gabbay supported it.

Ketchum has said that the group would appeal the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council, and he repeated his vow in an interview shortly before Wednesday's meeting.

The vote came this week after five public meetings by the Planning Commission this year and two hearings by the city's now-defunct Environmental Review Board. Meetings, which have gone on as long as 4 1/2 hours, have been characterized by lengthy public testimony and a considerable mustering of financial resources by both sides.

In a surprise move in February, Ketchum presented a three-dimensional model that galvanized the attention of the commission and the audience. The 3-by-4-foot model showed an estate that dwarfed surrounding homes. In later meetings, Manoukian's attorney's disputed the accuracy of the model, but the tactic was effective.

The finale was as dramatic as the start.

Manoukian's representatives had their own model prepared and were set to present it at this week's meeting.

But when a photographer attempted to take a picture of the model, one of Manoukian's attorneys, Murray Fischer, covered it.

When the photographer and members of the audience protested, arguing that the model was part of the record of the public meeting, Commission Chairman Jerry Magnin ordered a recess. After consulting with city attorneys, Magnin allotted five minutes for photographs.

The Ketchum group argued that the model's transparent cover and a screen on top of the cover prevented close scrutiny of the proposed estate except from the sides of the model, and that a full viewing was needed to ascertain the scale and character of the home compared with neighboring homes.

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