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It's a Pirate's View for Depp

The `Caribbean' star has W. Hollywood officials on legal gangplank over plans for a retail project he says would ruin one of the vistas at his estate.

April 29, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Actor Johnny Depp sometimes takes a dim view of American politics. But now he's taking an even dimmer view of West Hollywood politicians.

The "Pirates of the Caribbean" star is in a legal sword fight with city officials who have authorized a Sunset Strip construction project that he insists would ruin a scenic view from an area of his $5.4-million Hollywood Hills property.

The megastar contends in a lawsuit that the city violated environmental-quality laws by approving development of retail shops, a restaurant and a parking structure on a lot beneath his gated, 2 1/2 -acre Sweetzer Avenue estate.

Depp asserts that the project would block the view his two children have while playing outside the 7,430-square-foot home.

Backers of the development dispute that. They say that Depp has declared that the youngsters -- Lily-Rose, 6, and Jack, 4 -- will be raised in France, where he and French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis live.

In fact, Depp has suggested that because of America's current political climate, he can't envision anything more than short visits to Los Angeles.

It was unclear Friday how much time Depp and his family spend in Los Angeles. He has been spotted in Hollywood-area restaurants recently, and post-production is underway on the second installment of his popular pirate series, scheduled for release this summer. He is known to also have a home on a Caribbean island.

Depp could not be reached for comment. His attorney declined to discuss the case and his publicist did not respond to inquiries.

The 42-year-old actor created a furor in late 2003 when he explained to a German publication why he preferred France as the place for his children to grow up.

"America is dumb; it's like a dumb puppy that has big teeth that can bite and hurt you, aggressive," Depp told Stern magazine. "My daughter is 4, my boy is 1. I'd like them to see America as a toy, a broken toy. Investigate it a little, check it out, get this feeling and then get out."

The project's developers and lawyers say jaws dropped when Depp's representatives brought the children into the case.

John Cotti, an attorney representing West Hollywood, said the representatives argued that "the kids would be playing on the lower terrace and that the wall" of the proposed four-story commercial building "would potentially be blocking their view."

Developer Joseph Emrani of Venice Investments, who is a partner in the project with his brother, Youdi Emrani, said he challenged Depp's representatives.

"They said, 'The kids are playing over there and they don't want it to block their view.' I mentioned that his children live in Paris, and one of them said, 'That's very personal and we don't want to get involved with that,' " Joseph Emrani said.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled against Depp last year. The case is being appealed on his behalf by his sister, Christi Dembrowski. She is his personal assistant and the president of his film production company, Infinitum Nihil.

The West Hollywood City Council approved the development project 5 to 0 in 2004. Depp acquired the property, located just outside the West Hollywood city limits, for $2.3 million in 1995.

The Norman-style mansion was built in 1932. It was known then as "The Fairy Castle," after the eccentric woman who commissioned its construction. At the time it was considered an oddity because of its eight bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and chimney with no fireplace. By the 1940s it had been turned into a boarding house.

These days the three-story structure has been restored. It features a lagoon-like pool and is heavily landscaped with trees and bamboo that block views of the house from the Sunset Strip.

The site of the proposed project is currently a parking lot. It is directly across the street from the trendy hotel the Standard.

The development would rise about 45 feet from the Strip. Its roof would be about 40 feet below Depp's home. But the building would block views from a portion of the actor's bottom backyard terrace, which is down-slope from the house.

The dispute has delayed the start of the $10-million project for about a year, Joseph Emrani said.

The development would consist of shops and the restaurant on the ground floor, with four levels of enclosed parking above them. The rear of the structure would be screened with vines and other vegetation. In any event, Emrani said, "our building is below their house. Their floor is higher than our roof."

Depp has not directly participated in discussions surrounding the litigation, according to those involved.

He hasn't been shy about speaking out on political matters, however.

In 2003 he chided "grown men and women in positions of power in the U.S. government showing themselves as idiots" by trying to rename French fries as "freedom fries."

He subsequently apologized for his puppy metaphor, saying it was "insanely twisted" out of context.

"What I was saying was that, compared to Europe, America is a very young country and we are still growing as a nation," he said through his publicist.

In his view, as he put it, it's his love for the United States that prompts him to "speak candidly and sometimes critically about it."

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