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Group Sues Over Historic Estate

W. Hollywood residents trying to preserve 'Tara' site say the city violated state development laws.

June 07, 2004|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

A group of West Hollywood residents trying to keep a historic estate from being turned into low-income senior housing has filed suit against the city, saying it violated state development laws and kept residents in the dark about its plans.

The city wants to build a 35-unit apartment building on the wooded estate using a $4.2-million grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But critics argue that redevelopment of the property they call "Tara" would betray the woman who left the property to the city hoping it could be maintained as a cultural treasure.

The lawsuit, filed last week, alleges that the city violated state development laws when it approved transfer of the property to developers along with $475,000 in city loans for the project without conducting the required public hearings, environmental reviews and traffic studies.

West Hollywood's city attorney could not be reached for comment.

Opponents contend that any redevelopment would destroy the only large estate to survive from West Hollywood's orchard era. A Colonial-style house built in 1915 sits at the center of the nearly two-thirds-acre property and is shaded by a canopy of 66 trees and 44 tropical shrubs.

Elsie Weisman, who died in 2000 at age 101, donated the estate only after the city blocked her family from turning the Laurel Avenue site into an apartment complex.

"We talked about it, and she said she gave it to the city because it would safeguard the entire property," said Richard Weisman, Elsie's son. "She loved this place."

Weisman suggested the estate be left intact and turned into a public park and the house used as a museum

In May, the City Council tentatively approved the apartment project before an audience of 200 people, 70 of whom addressed the council with mixed views about the proposal. The project still requires environmental and traffic studies before a final council vote.

The proposals presented to the council by the housing department show a multilevel apartment building wrapping around the back of the house.

"The project has gotten so far along, it makes it very difficult for the city to look at alternatives," said Katherine Trisolini, the attorney for Weisman and the residents who favor preservation. "The only things left to explore are tinkerings in the design."

In 1994, the city designated the site a historic landmark, blocking Richard Weisman's plans to build a 55-unit apartment building at the site. Elsie Weisman willed the property to the city in 1997 in exchange for tax benefits and permission to live the rest of her life there.

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