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West Hollywood dealt a blow on 'Tara'

October 31, 2008|Bob Pool | Pool is a Times staff writer.

A plan to turn a West Hollywood landmark into a $6-million senior citizens home suffered a setback Thursday when the state Supreme Court ruled that officials failed to follow proper procedures in evaluating the project's effect on the environment.

City leaders have sought for some five years to use the leafy Laurel Avenue estate that locals call "Tara" for affordable housing. Critics contend that the place should be used as a public park and community center.

The home is shaded by a forest of 66 trees and dozens of tropical shrubs and resembles the plantation in the movie "Gone With the Wind." It was donated to the city by longtime resident Elsie Weisman, who is said to have died there at age 101 while watching the Clark Gable film.

The court ruled that the city should have done an environmental impact report on the 28-unit housing proposal before joining two development partners and obtaining a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for it.

"This should teach them to listen to the public," said project foe Allegra Allison, a former tenant of Weisman who lived at the house for more than 25 years. "Hopefully now they will make it a park and cultural center."

Attorney Doug Carstens, who represented opponents, called Thursday's ruling something that will shape government throughout the state.

"It is a landmark decision that's a lot bigger than West Hollywood," he said.

Christi Hogin, West Hollywood's assistant city attorney, termed the ruling "frustrating" for the city. She said officials hope to keep the development partnership intact and funded long enough to do a new environmental impact report and start the process over.

"The city still owns the property" and still takes the issue of affordable housing for seniors seriously, Hogin said.

Because Thursday's ruling involved a state environmental law, it cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she said.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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