Bill Christopher of Urban Concepts holds an artist's rendering of… (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)
A Saudi prince has submitted revised plans to build a mansion complex along a posh, private lane in Benedict Canyon, even as Los Angeles city and county officials are calling for an investigation into the city's oversight of the controversial project.
Representatives of Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud have submitted scaled-back plans for a compound totaling roughly 60,000 square feet on three parcels along winding Tower Lane. Originally, the prince had submitted plans for a group of residential structures totaling 85,000 square feet — a proposal that drew intense opposition from neighbors.
Critics contend that the scope of the project remains out of proportion with surrounding homes. They have accused project agents of misrepresenting aspects of the plan and insist that Los Angeles planning and development officials have failed to properly enforce building and environmental codes.
Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky are among the officials who have expressed concern, saying the case raised questions about inadequate coordination between the city's planning and building-code enforcement agencies.
Ben Reznik, an attorney for Prince Abdulaziz, said the revised plans were submitted Tuesday and that they addressed key neighborhood concerns about the project's size and environmental effects.
One such concern was the estimated 3,000 truck trips it would take to remove construction materials and soil from the site.Reznik said engineers have proposed a way to reduce the number of truck trips to just 90, by reusing construction materials and soil.
The biggest difference between the original and the revised proposals is the elimination of a planned 27,000-square-foot "son's villa."
"Those are important changes," Reznik said.
Project critics said that by filing the plans this week, the applicant avoided compliance with a new ordinance that has stricter limits on what can be built in the hillsides. The hillside ordinance goes into effect Monday. Its intent is to reduce grading and limit the size of homes so that they are compatible with surrounding dwellings and the site's topography.
"It's clear that the applicant is working with the Department of Building and Safety to beat the deadline for the Hillside Mansionization Ordinance," said Michael Eisenberg, a Benedict Canyon resident. "It's outrageous that the city would help this landowner put a structure the size of a Wal-Mart in a steep, hillside residential neighborhood."
Robert Steinbach, inspection bureau chief for the Department of Building and Safety, said he understood the applicant's desire to get plans in ahead of the new hillside ordinance.
"I can't imagine why anyone would not want to beat an ordinance change," Steinbach said. "Applicants come to us with all sorts of ideas. We help them figure out which ones are going to work under the code."
The Tower Lane project was nearing approval a month ago when residents raised issues over the permitting paperwork and lack of environmental review.
Even though the city Planning Department staff had recommended rejection of a neighborhood appeal and approval of a crucial lot-line adjustment, the outcry attracted the attention of several officials who are now calling for a closer look at the project.
Koretz has urged the city to investigate the application and permitting process.
In a letter dated Tuesday to City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and Building and Safety Department General Manager Bud Ovrom, Koretz requested a report from Building and Safety on its "handling of this application and whether any procedures need changing to prevent such issues in the future."
Also, on April 28, Yaroslavsky wrote a letter to Ovrom, saying the Tower Lane project "seemingly [had] been the beneficiary of lax enforcement of long-standing violations and unchecked factual errors on recent land use applications."
On Wednesday, Koretz released a statement saying the proposal would be examined "with a fine tooth comb."
"We will be reviewing the application for any discretionary actions that may be requested so the community may have a loud voice on any matter not deemed by-right," the statement read. "We will do everything within our power to stop inappropriate development."