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Windsor Village Loses Appeal on Large Scale Lucerne Blvd Project

Windsor Village development
The Windsor Village Association opposes the massing, size and style of the project, saying it is not compatible with the area’s HPOZ. Rendering of proposed “Morumbila” project superimposed on photograph of current streetscape.

About five dozen people showed up at City Hall on Tuesday August 26 to make their voices heard regarding the approved 32 unit condominium “Morumbila” development planned for two lots on South Lucerne Blvd, just south of the Ebell of Los Angrles in Windsor Village. But after four hours of testimony by Officials from City Planning, the Office of Historic Resources, the developer, some members of the HPOZ Board and Windsor Village residents, the neighborhood activists went home disappointed as the Central Planning Commission sided 3 to 1 with the City, denying both appeals and allowing the project to move forward.

Nora Dresser and Ken Bernstein spoke on behalf of the City saying the development conforms to the Windsor Village HPOZ Preservation Plan, that it had gone through many incarnations of redesign addressing the neighborhood and the HPOZ Board’s concerns, and that this particular case had been, in Bernstein’s words “…a very difficult case for the department. The Preservation Plans guidelines are not that specific. But we feel the project meets the intent of the infill guidelines for this HPOZ.” Bernstein also noted that some of the trouble with the case was due to the fact that the department “erred on the side of caution” in asking a member of the HPOZ Board, who is also a resident of Windsor Village, to recuse herself from voting on the Morumbila case for “privately discussing the case” ( which was not substantiated) and led the HPOZ Board to end in a tie vote of 3-3. The Office of City Planning later said the HPOZ Board approved the project though in fact it was a tied vote and not fully supported.

The Central Area Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday.
The Central Area Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday.

The two appeals, one written by lawyer and Windsor Village board member R.J. Strotz and the other by the owner of the duplex property adjacent to the development, cited concerns that the project’s massing and percentage of lot coverage does not fit within the Preservation Plan guidelines. The appeal stated that the City was incorrect in giving the property’s current owner, who purchased it in 2010, the tract map rights approved eight years ago before the area became an HPOZ, and without producing an updated Environmental Impact Report (EIR) nor did it conform to CEQA law.

The appeals also declared that the recusal of the Windsor Village HPOZ Board member was “selective discrimination” by Planning staff that resulted in an inaccurate vote, and that Planning’s findings on size and setbacks of the project as appropriate to the neighborhood were inaccurate. Strotz argued that Planning was comparing the project only to the R-3 zoned block it is on, where a number of non-contributing structures built in the 1970s and 1980s stand, and not to the larger neighborhood where 73% of the structures are HPOZ contributors and have generous set backs, more green space and less lot coverage.

According to Planning’s findings, the combined two-lot, 32 unit Morumbila complex will have 57% lot coverage (53% is average for the area). One Commissioner hearing the case questioned the calculations, as did some of the residents at the Hearing, noting the architectural drawings of the project which has the new building built out to the minimum setbacks allowed by law.

Peter Wilson, architect for the project and representative for the owner/developer, showed the Planning Commission the multiple design iterations the project went through In the course of its presentation to the HPOZ and to neighbors. The architect took it from a faux Spanish Colonial design to a more modern Streamline Moderne style in keeping with other historical buildings in the Wilshire area, and more easily converting the current “modern box” style of the James Terrace Apartments which will be renovated and incorporated into the Morumbila project.

Wilson argued that his firm made every attempt to satisfy the local community, adding two feet more green space on the south side of the property and stepping the building up to four stories in the back and middle of project so as not to dwarf the 1920s Mediterranean duplex just to the south of the property.

These compensations did not fly with the dozens of residents who showed up at the appeal hearing, however, and many of whom spoke about the size of the building being incompatible with the historic fabric of the neighborhood. They felt that the minimal setbacks would leave the project “overwhelming” the street scape and leave little green space.

While two HPOZ Board members spoke in favor of the project, many residents and Windsor Village Association Board members spoke to feeling that the project does not fit with the intentions of the Preservation Plan. Most speakers were not “opposed to development” but wanted it to be in scale with the historic neighborhood. They worried that this would also set a precedent for future development in the Village.

“I was surprised that City Planning violated our HPOZ Ordinance and our Preservation Plan,” Allison Sapunor told the Larchmont Buzz. “We were not treated fairly and the city has made our preservation laws useless and toothless because they are not being enforced. We are not done fighting.”

“Our neighborhood invested countless hours of effort in getting our HPOZ recognition in place, with the unwavering support of our former CD 10 City Councilmember, Herb Wesson, and his dedicated staff,” R.J. Strotz said “I am shocked that City Planning has now taken the position that our historic preservation laws will not be enforced in order to allow historically incompatible residential development in Windsor Village. Our neighborhood is not against residential development so long as it complies with the requirements of our preservation plan; the Morumbila project does not comply. Just because City Planning insists that the project complies does not make it so.”

Council District 4 [Chief of Land Use Planning] Renee Weitzer was present at the hearing but would not take a stand for or against the project, though she had supported the neighborhoods efforts to downscale this project in the past. She did not respond to our request for a comment.

Larchmont Buzz: Windsor Village Appeals Planning Dept Decision

Larchmont Buzz: Windsor Village Hoping to Downscale Project

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Julie Grist
Julie Grist
Julie co-founded the Larchmont Buzz with fellow buzzer Mary Hawley in 2011 and served as Editor, Publisher and writer for the hive for many years until the sale of the Buzz in August 2015. She is still circling the hive as an occasional writer.

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