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Beverly Hills News – Trial Date Set For 50-Foot Height Variance In Bel-Air

Updated: Friday, October 31, 2014 – 1:57 PM

By Victoria Talbot

Janice Lazarof will have her day in court to protest a decision by 5th District Councilmember Paul Koretz when he asserted jurisdiction, pursuant to Los Angeles Charter Section 245, for a 50-foot height variance at 360 N. Stone Canyon Road.

Koretz granted the variance over the objections of the West Los Angeles Planning Commission, which denied the request in a unanimous decision.

The upcoming trial is on the petition for a writ of mandate to overturn the City Council decision.

Koretz’s actions were on behalf of real estate speculators Mark and Arman Gabay who intend to build a 42,409 square foot residence on the two-acre site in Bel Air.

That variance galvanized residents, prompting a meeting that took place last April at the Bel Air Association. The confrontation was epic. A large group of frustrated residents demanded answers about unmanaged development and thousands of truckloads of soil removed from unstable hillsides without any oversight from Los Angeles city officials, whose job it is to monitor safety and conditions of construction activity.

That unsuccessful meeting led to increasing confrontations with the City of Los Angeles until finally, the Bel Air Homeowners Alliance was created in a backlash against overdevelopment and lack of accountability. Success is hard to come by when fighting City Hall, but history proves that persistence and passion count. The BAHOA has been gathering momentum at City Hall, fueled by residents fed up with hazardous conditions and runaway construction and willing to put their money into fighting it.

The councilman has a history with the Gabay brothers; by his own admission, they have been acquainted for some time. Arman Gabay asked for a height variance on another home on Stone Canyon and received it less than six months earlier.

Lazarof fought that, as well, to no avail.

On her side is the Baseline Hillside Ordinance developed in 2011 and sponsored by Koretz himself, was created to regulate out-of-scale single-family projects in the City of Los Angeles. It is supposed to be the definitive guide to hillside development. However, height regulations, a major component of the ordinance, are to be limited to 36 feet – until Koretz or another councilmember decides to change it.

The Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations also opposed the height variance, recognizing that the Hillside Ordinance meant to protect neighborhood character will be undermined. The height restrictions will fall to the first challenger on precedence if the 50-foot variance wins in court.

The trial for the development is set to take place Wednesday, Dec. 10 at 9:30 a.m. in Department 86 of the Superior Court in downtown Los Angeles at 111 N. Hill Street.

The Bel Air Homeowners Alliance will be there.

Now it seems, sensing that they may be reaching the limits of their development potential, a wild frenzy of unbridled development is underway. Shedding the effects of the recession, extremely high-end developers have discovered that there are still hillside lots that until now, where too costly to consider developing. With the value of land on the rise, and the demand for a place to park an abundance of cash, the lure has proved irresistible.

Residents continue to fight back, though the projects just keep coming. Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Building and Safety adopted a mitigated negative declaration for the export of 9,802 cubic yards of soil from 10830 Chalon Road, another mega-development.

The City’s own geology and soils report states that, “the site is located in a designated seismically induced landslide hazard zone,” and gives 53 conditions for approval.

Judging from past behavior, it is clear that the City of Los Angeles is unlikely to enforce even one of the 53 conditions comprehensively.

In another development, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, with yet another two fingers in the dyke that is Los Angeles’ water system, has sent residents a letter informing them of the DWP’s intent to begin installing “approximately 2,700 feet of 8” water main” on Copa De Oro Road, Bel Air Road and St. Cloud Road, begun with an abundance of cash.

This will begin immediately and construction will last about 16 weeks. The construction will run Monday through Friday, 7-4 p.m.

For the duration, the DWP will compete with heavy haul vehicles, food trucks, cement mixers and construction deliveries. Residents will have to fend for themselves. Closures have already caused delays and created confusion, but DWP workers have collaborated with residents to overcome some of the difficulties, said Fred Rosen, President of the BAHOA.

Last weekend on Perugia Way, construction vehicles blocked trash trucks and blocked resident’s driveways, working seven days a week despite the fact that its illegal to haul on weekends. On Stone Canyon, trucks have once again begun staging illegally at 6:30 a.m., stopping to chat and purchase coffee from food trucks without regard for resident’s travel or noise levels.

Enforcement of basic ordinances designed to protect the safety of residents in the delicate environment of the hillside areas comes only in response to an abundance of complaints.

It is only a matter of time until the narrow streets produce the next accident. As the hillsides enter the Santa Ana season, each time the winds blow down through the canyons towards the sea, echoes of the nearly forgotten Bel Air Fire blow with them on the construction-choked winding hillside lanes.


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