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Judge voids historic preservation plan

L.A. didn't study the environmental impact of protecting Windsor Square homes, jurist rules in a lawsuit.

October 26, 2006|Jessica Garrison and Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writers

A long-running battle over preserving historic homes in posh Hancock Park and Windsor Square took a twist this week when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge threw out the city's plan to create a historic district in Windsor Square.

Judge Dzintra Janavs said the city had violated the California Environmental Quality Act by failing to properly study the potential environmental impacts of establishing the district. Similar arguments have been raised in a legal fight against a historic district in Hancock Park, where neighbors for years have been waging battle.

Some attorneys said the decision means that other proposed historic districts, in neighborhoods such as Los Feliz, Larchmont and Jefferson Park, could be at risk of legal challenge. But preservation advocates said the program is "wildly popular" in most neighborhoods. Officials for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which helps create the districts, said this is the first lawsuit challenging one of the city's plans.

The districts limit what residents can do to the facades of their homes and in many cases require owners to get special permission before they add on. Since the program began 23 years ago, officials have created 22 districts, protecting such structures as Victorian houses in Angelino Heights, Craftsman bungalows in West Adams and Spanish-style houses near Hollywood.

The court decision is the latest turn in a battle over preservation in stately Hancock Park and Windsor Square, midway between downtown and Beverly Hills. The fight flared with dueling lawn signs and allegations of misrepresentation.

Some residents protested that the rules were too restrictive. The dispute took on religious overtones after an Orthodox Jewish congregation tore down a house and replaced it with a larger structure. Some have also complained that the historic preservation laws would prevent them from having kosher kitchens, an allegation the city denies.

Over the summer, the two sides dueled it out in city hearings. The group representing one side adopted the same name as its foe, leading to charges of unfair competition and trade libel and a federal lawsuit.

After the judge's decision, Ken Bernstein, manager of the city's office of historic resources, said he was "reviewing our options over how to respond to the decision and how this will impact the adoption of historic preservation overlay zones in the future and what level of environmental review will be required."

The state's environmental quality act has more often been used by preservationists to ensure that the effects of new developments on the environment or cultural resources are studied and if necessary softened or eliminated. This case reverses that trend, with owners instead saying the act should protect their right to use their property as they please.

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