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Residents Claim Small Victory in Rec Center Issue : Facilities: City Hall is persuaded that its original plan for a much larger center doesn't benefit the community.


SILVER LAKE — Residents of Silver Lake found out last week that you can fight city hall and win.

Armed with a comprehensive neighborhood survey and an array of graphs and charts, a dozen residents persuaded the Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department at a June 2 meeting to drop plans to replace the antiquated Silver Lake Recreation Center with what they called an 11,000-square-foot windowless monstrosity that would clash with the neighborhood's vintage homes.

In a turnaround, the department agreed that the original plan might not be suited to the small sliver of park just below the Silver Lake Reservoir.

City officials promised to work with civic leaders to design a facility that would reflect the needs and wishes of the community.

"In my opinion, the community did an excellent job (of presenting its case for a smaller-scale recreation center)," said Frank Catania, planning and development supervisor for the parks department.

That case was built by the Silver Lake Recreation Center Advisory Council, a group of residents who surveyed 500 of their neighbors and drew up recommendations based on their answers.

"We found a strong community mandate to keep the recreation center building at its current size, or moderately larger," said Jan Soo Hoo, who helped conduct the survey.

Soo Hoo said the residents believed that any renovation or construction must be sensitive to the size and architectural style of the existing building. In addition, the group said retaining open space was a priority and recommended improving the outdoor playground, basketball court and baseball field.

The run-down building, a 1930s Mediterranean-style structure at West Silver Lake Drive and Van Pelt Place, attracts young children who take part in the center's T-ball and peewee baseball programs. Its toddler-friendly playground serves the large population of parents with young children.

In drawing up its original plans to replace the aging center, the parks department was hoping to provide an indoor basketball court and other sports programs for older children.

The citizens group found, however, that there was less of a demand for programs for teen-agers than for a small-scale recreation center that would not be a neighborhood eyesore. Neighbors also worried that there would be no parking to accommodate the numbers of people who would use a larger facility.

Catania generally agreed with the group's recommendations.

Both sides appear to agree that renovating the center might be more costly than erecting a new structure, because of new building codes that would require meeting different fire protection and prevention standards and providing access for the handicapped. The cost of building a smaller facility, without a basketball court, has been estimated at $1.5 million.

The parks department will assess costs for a renovation, while the residents put together a list of critical needs for the community, including features--kitchen, meeting rooms, a small gym--they would like the center to have.

"We discussed what we could do for him," Soo Hoo said of Catania. "If it is not feasible to renovate, then we will work with them to design a center for the community."

That spirit of cooperation was a far cry from an emotional meeting in November, 1991, when residents learned of the city's plan to replace the aging facility with a $2-million center featuring an indoor basketball court.

"We are looking forward to working with the community," Catania said. "The (advisory council) was very effective. They did all of their homework and they even did some of our homework. In essence, it makes our job easier."

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