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HOUSING : Lark Ellen Towers May Be Reborn for Seniors

March 30, 1995|CHIP JACOBS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A deserted nine-story building that some have labeled a suburban eyesore could be on the brink of rebirth as a modernized senior-citizen housing complex under an emerging West Covina redevelopment concept.

After a battle between two competing developers last month, city officials entered into exclusive negotiations with Brentwood-based Thomas Safran & Associates to determine if the 30-year-old Lark Ellen Towers can be renovated. Whether an agreement can be forged from the talks, which center on seismic, structural and financial issues, should be known by July.

Safran, which beat out the nonprofit Southern California Housing Development Corp. for the negotiation rights, has pledged $200,000 toward those studies.

The city has long wanted to revive the dated Lark Ellen Towers, a former private nursing facility on San Bernardino Road and one of the area's tallest structures. However, luring an experienced developer with enough financial clout into the picture has proven tricky because of the steep cost of engineering studies, asbestos-laden building materials and no guarantees of city financial assistance.

Resting on a 4-acre plot, the 176-unit building has been vacant and in disrepair for years. The property was foreclosed by Sumitomo Bank two years ago after the previous owner, a group of doctors, defaulted on their mortgage during a rehabilitation bid.

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West Covina officials now hope the time is right for another attempt. Among other things, cities are required by state law to spend 20% of their redevelopment funds on low-income housing and the Towers project could help them do just that. One idea being floated is for the city to buy the land from the bank and give it to Safran.

"The benefit is that (the building) is sitting around here rotting away and we have an experienced developer who will turn it around," said Mayor Brad McFadden. "We would also get credit toward housing standards."

Company President Thomas Safran said it is unclear whether the deal holds promise economically but said any rehabilitation could mean larger apartment units, a structural face lift and subsidized rent capped at $350 to $450 a month to accommodate low- and moderate-income seniors.

"We still need to evaluate whether the building should be saved or torn down," Safran said.

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