To owner George Evans, Country Pickin's produce store is just a three-walled, whitewashed fruit and vegetable stand on the corner of a busy Eagle Rock boulevard.
But to several residents and politicians who have spent the last 18 months bickering over the property's future, the fate of the tiny business is a symbol of everything that is wrong with northeastern Los Angeles.
Some residents view the popular store--with its hand-painted signs and concrete floor--as a reminder of a simpler era, when the economy was growing, when Eagle Rock's business district did not have a 50% vacancy rate, and when people lived in the now-mostly empty apartment complexes along Colorado Boulevard near Eagle Rock Boulevard.
But while one citizens group is working to preserve the store, another community organization said the question is not whether the property should be developed, but rather what input the community should have in the development.
"This is not about Country Pickin's," said Tim Sanders, president of the Eagle Rock Assn. "It is about the way in which the land use is governed by the city. We're trying to ensure that the community has some kind of control when something else comes in."
Something else will probably come in and assume the Colorado Boulevard address that has been painted on the Country Pickin's store for more than 13 years, city officials said. Evans' lease expires this month, and the lot's owner, Duke Development Co., has made arrangements to sell the property to a developer who plans a commercial project.
Developer Kurken Alyanakian negotiated for two years with Duke and the property is now in escrow, said Souren Shorvoghlian, a spokesman for Duke.
Sanders and some other residents said they welcome development, but are concerned about Alyanakian's plans to build a mixed-use apartment complex that would house senior citizens above a few commercial offices and a restaurant.
An as-yet-undetermined percentage of the housing must be preserved for senior citizens, officials said. And some residents worry that the complex's planned low-rent rates will attract families with children--further straining crowded local schools and forcing neighborhood children to be bused elsewhere, said Mona Fields, a community activist in favor of preserving the store.
"I haven't heard anyone come out and say, 'I oppose all growth categorically,' but we just haven't seen it done right," said Fields, a member of Concerned Residents of Eagle Rock.
The Eagle Rock Assn. has even set up separate, unofficial criteria for developers interested in Eagle Rock property.
"We have had six community meetings where we listened to their specific concerns," Alyanakian said. "We signed a four-page agreement with [the Eagle Rock Assn.] agreeing to 10 to 15 items, including a reduction in density from 142 units to 90 units."
After being denied federal funding for the project in November, Alyanakian has gone back to the drawing board. This time, he said he is taking community concerns with him.
"The final product, in my opinion and the architect's opinion, will be better than it would have been had we not had community input," he said.
Residents' groups are not only asking small developers to be accountable to the communities in which they build. More than 400 Eagle Rock area residents packed a Los Angeles Planning Department meeting in October to raise concerns about the proposed Northeast Community Plan, a rezoning proposal for the 15,600-acre area of Northeast Los Angeles, bounded by Glendale, Pasadena, South Pasadena and Alhambra. Because of the outcry over the rezoning proposals, the plan is only now in its final drafting stage after more than seven years and several revisions, said department Director Con How.
The department's willingness to consider community concern was viewed as a victory by many community members, but some Eagle Rock officials said the public's involvement in development often goes too far.
"Community groups do have some input, and it has caused a great deal of concern to some developers," said Jim Beckham, president of the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce.
Store owner Evans said that while he believes development is necessary, he is not convinced that a mixed-use senior housing project will draw more city dollars. And he said he would probably turn down an offer by Alyanakian to move his store into one of the new building's first-floor commercial offices.
"I realize that someday the property will be sold, and we won't be here anymore," said Evans.