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A Good Idea Hits the Street : Loan could bring life to dead zone on Ventura Boulevard, despite neighbors' agenda

October 09, 1994

A dead zone in Sherman Oaks has moved a little closer to a welcome rebirth, under terms that unfortunately are opposed by some of its neighbors.

Rejecting the views of the naysayers, a City Council committee has approved a $2.4-million loan to create a building with a ground floor of retail stores and two floors of apartments for elderly people. The loan, though its terms are favorable, is no gift but is to be repaid from rental income.

The empty buildings to be replaced at Ventura Boulevard and Woodman Avenue are in advanced disrepair. They have assaulted thousands of eyes daily for five years, since the owner evicted his tenants, sought to construct a three-story building that appalled neighbors and slammed into a bureaucratic wall thrown up by then-Councilman Michael Woo at his constituents' request. As the dispute dragged on through the years and into court, the stores became a haven for rats and vandals. They also became a textbook example of the recurring conflict over development on the Valley's "Main Street."

Under the settlement endorsed by City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, the building will be neither an elephantine monster nor the trim row of little shops many residents yearn for. Instead, in an innovative retail/housing mix, 83 one-bedroom apartments will be occupied by low-income people over 62 years old. Couples with annual incomes of $24,000 or individuals who make a bit less will be eligible. They will pay $550 a month.

The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. will have none of it. Among other things it opposes the precedential violation of the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan's 30-foot height limit, if only by five feet.

Even giving appropriate respect to the neighbors' views, the project's pluses more than offset the minuses.

First off, it will replace the present mess. Rejection would mean further deterioration or empty land or, someday, a commercial building that would almost certainly generate more traffic than what's proposed.

Second, it has unusual benefits beyond providing needed housing. People living above stores and going out to shop or ride buses will add pedestrians, customers and perhaps even Neighborhood Watchers to the boulevard. They will make it better, not worse.

The city has worked to allay various fears. Resident parking, at one space per apartment, exceeds the city minimum, and the retail market meets it. A turn lane will be added for northbound Woodman. To help preserve neighbors' back-yard privacy, rear apartments will be limited to six.

Other objections in our view are of dubious merit or outweighed by the good points. The full council should approve the loan when it comes up for a vote in November.

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