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Valley Roundup | Studio City

Carwash Sign Dispute Finally Resolved

March 09, 2000|SUE FOX

A giant carwash sign that thrust Studio City residents into a yearlong debate over the relative merits of kitsch, art and zoning laws was approved Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council--albeit with a string of conditions to appease neighbors.

The 26-foot beacon, featuring a hand holding a yellow sponge and model Corvette, has been awash in controversy since carwash owner Ben Forat erected it without a permit in 1998. It violates several city rules governing size and setback from property lines, but many residents admired the plucky sign's character and the city Planning Commission ruled it had artistic value.

Others, including members of the Studio City Residents Assn., said allowing the illegal sign to stay would set a dangerous precedent for Ventura Boulevard. After a prolonged battle, Forat and the homeowners agreed to a compromise.

Under the deal approved by lawmakers, Forat will lower the sign to 20 feet, shrink the square footage of the sponge and push the whole ensemble back 10 feet from the street. He also agreed to contribute $6,000 to a street-scape fund.

"Finally," said Councilman Joel Wachs, who represents the neighborhood consumed by the sign debate, an issue that sparked dozens of letters to a community newspaper.

Wachs admitted that he was initially surprised by the furor: "It was amazing to think it would generate that much interest, given the magnitude of other problems we face in the city. I mean, we have Rampart. We have Belmont."

But he said he soon realized that the sign touched upon deeper issues of community control and respect for the law.

"I think they came up with a fair compromise," Wachs said.

Polly Ward, vice president of the residents' group, agreed. Forat "got a lot more than he possibly could have if he did it the right way," she said.

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