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Ostrichized : Neighbors Cheer Eviction Edict, Call Chatsworth Man's Flock Foul

October 05, 1994|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Siding with ruffled neighbors, a Los Angeles zoning panel Tuesday ordered the owner of a Chatsworth estate to get rid of his 800 or so ostriches and emus, calling the big, flightless fowl a nuisance.

The decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals was a victory for about 30 neighbors in Monteria Estates who complained to the panel about odors, dust and airborne feathers that they blame on the birds.

"The smell is there and it comes from one source: 800 animals urinating and defecating," longtime neighbor Warren Berlinger told the board.

Apparently moved by the complaints, the board took the unusual step of ignoring a recommendation by a zoning administrator to limit to 195 the number of ostriches--the largest and strongest birds in the world--and emus--a similar but slightly smaller Australian creature. Instead the panel voted to banish all the flightless birds from the seven-acre property.

"We have a majority of the people in that area who cannot live there (comfortably) and that is not fair," said panel member Chris Kezios.

But the decision will not put an end to the year-old dispute. Jay S. Bulmash, attorney for the owner of the estate, David Mohilef, said he plans to appeal, either to the City Council or to a court.

Bulmash said the panel has no right to make such a decision, because the board can impose restrictions only on commercial properties. He argued that the estate is a private "aviary," not a business, and was granted a city permit to operate as such in 1977.

"There is no evidence before you that we are a commercial venture," he said, prompting snickers and disapproving comments from neighbors in the audience.

The dispute began about a year ago in Monteria Estates, a gated community of very expensive houses in northern Chatsworth.

Mohilef hired scientists and others to buttress his arguments that his agriculture-zoned property was clean and safe and that there was no proof that his birds were creating the problems. But his neighbors persisted, complaining to city officials and hiring their own lawyers in their battle to oust the birds.

After a contentious hearing in July, Associate Zoning Administrator Daniel Green recommended the 195-bird limit. He imposed no restrictions on the other 200 or so farm animals, such as goats, on the property.

Mohilef appealed Green's decision to the zoning board.

Although Bulmash said the ranch is used only to raise and study the birds, Green said he suspects Mohilef is profiting from sales of the birds or their eggs.

Green said ostrich meat, feathers and skin are in high demand and the oversized eggs are selling for as much as $3,000 each. "This is a cash cow," he said. "It's a lucrative business."

At least half the hearing was spent taking testimony from 17 angry neighbors who said the odors and dust caused by the birds are making their lives miserable.

One neighbor played a tape recording for the panel of a high-pitched squealing that he said was the sound of emus mating at 1 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning. "I can't sleep at night," the neighbor said. "I literally can't sleep at night."

But the most common complaint concerned odors.

"The stench is unbearable," said Gordon Lester, who has lived near the site for nine years.

"The stench makes you want to throw up," said another neighbor.

Others said dried bird droppings blow onto nearby trees and bushes and into swimming pools.

"How in the name of fair play and common sense can these conditions be allowed to continue?" asked Thomas Beeler, who said he has lived 30 feet from the property since 1972.

After the decision, Greg Butts, whose property adjoins Mohilef's, said he was pleased with the ruling but fears that an appeal by Mohilef will only drag the dispute on longer without a resolution.

"I wouldn't be surprised if it takes another year," he said.

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