Copyright 1991 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times


November 22, 1991, Friday, Home Edition

SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 3; Column 4; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 766 words

HEADLINE: PANEL OKS LESS DENSITY FOR MIRACLE MILE AREA

BYLINE: By MILES CORWIN, TIMES STAFF WRITER

BODY:
The Los Angeles Planning Commission on Thursday voted to lower density
requirements for new construction in a Miracle Mile apartment district --
a decision that preservationists hope will save some of the remaining
1930s apartment buildings known for their distinctive architecture.

The commission attempted to forge a compromise between tenants and
property owners, but ended up satisfying neither.

Tenants had hoped for more extensive requirements on new construction so
developers would be discouraged from tearing down buildings to build
larger ones. During the past five years about 50 small apartment houses --
many designed with gables and towers, wood-beamed ceilings and
hand-plastered walls -- have been bulldozed to make way for much larger,
boxy complexes.

"This was a sham," said tenant Denise Robb, founder of the Miracle Mile
Action Committee. "This decision was too watered down. . . . It doesn't
offer enough protection to these buildings."

But property owners vehemently oppose any changes that will restrict
development in their neighborhood -- a 13-block area just north of
Wilshire Boulevard near La Brea -- and argued that the commission's
decision has lowered their property values. A number of property owners
will file a class-action lawsuit against the city, said Rose Freidman, who
owns an older building in the neighborhood.

Planning Commissioner Fernando Torres-Gil said he generally opposes
downzoning proposals. But he supported the decision Thursday because lower
density could "preserve the sense of community and uniqueness of this
area."

The commission's proposal includes a density requirement that will reduce
the number of units that can be built on a lot from 19 to 13, provisions
for subterranean garages to reduce street congestion, and extensive
landscaping for new construction. But the commission rejected its staff's
proposal to impose a height requirement on construction that would limit
most new buildings to no more than three stories.

"The height requirement was the most critical issue . . . and that was
lost," said Bruce Sternberg of the American Institute of Architects' local
chapter. "That's one of the biggest problems in the neighborhood now --
new buildings that are massively out of scale to the existing buildings."

But, Sternberg acknowledged, in today's economy it often is difficult to
build apartment complexes and the downzoning decision could discourage
some new construction in the area.

During the boom years of the late 1980s, about 25% of the neighborhood was
demolished. Much larger complexes with two-tiered parking garages and
higher rents replaced the graceful period revival buildings. Residents
complain that the new buildings have brought more traffic, higher density
and inalterably transformed their neighborhood.

But Jeffrey Fader, head of the Miracle Mile Owners Assn., contends that
the 60- and 70-year-old apartment buildings are "not all that significant
or attractive."

"It's like . . . I can look at a woman and think she's beautiful, and you
can look at her and just think she's just OK," Fader, who owns 12
buildings in the area, said in a recent interview. "It's all your frame of
reference. And from my frame of reference a lot of these buildings are
obsolete and should be ripped down."

The demolition of the older buildings in the neighborhood is an example of
Los Angeles' weak approach to preservation, said Barbara Hoff of the Los
Angeles Conservancy, a private preservation group. If the city in the
mid-1980s had declared the neighborhood an official "historic preservation
overlay zone" it could have been preserved, she said.

"This neighborhood certainly met all the criteria for preservation, but
pressure from developers and property owners kept city officials from
pushing for protected status," said a state preservation official who
requested anonymity.

The area traditionally had been dominated by six- to eight-unit, two-story
apartment buildings, but the zoning was for apartments more than twice
that size. Property owners said the downzoning order is a mistake because
the neighborhood is so close to some of the city's busiest commercial
districts. This is an ideal neighborhood, they said, for high density
zoning.

But the higher rents on the new buildings have created high vacancy rates,
while the old buildings rarely have vacancies, said Renee Weitzer,
planning deputy of Councilman John Ferraro, whose district the
neighborhood is in.

The Planning Commission proposal will go to the City Council, which is
expected to act on the issue early next year.