At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, October 24, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee took positions on two agenized items – the apparent change of use from a residential duplex to a synagogue at 200-202 N. Orange Drive in the residentially-zoned Citrus Square neighborhood, and a proposed 5-story, 31-unit apartment project at 4820 W. Oakwood Ave.
200-202 S. Orange Dr.
According to the more than 20 neighbors who visited the Land Use meeting on Tuesday night, and who said they represented at least that many more who were not in attendance, the property at this address is a duplex, in a location zoned for one or two-unit residential buildings, that is now operating as the synagogue of the Beis Medrash of Hancock Park congregation.
The neighbors said this change of use, and the large numbers of people gathering at the building for various services and other events during both daytime and nighttime hours, disrupts the neighborhood with traffic and parking congestion, noise, unsupervised children playing in the streets next to the property, security guards who appear to watch neighbors very closely, and more. They also reported that city inspectors have visited the property, along with Allen Zipper, Community Engagement Director for City Councilmember Katy Young Yaroslavsky, but no citations of any sort have been issued yet.
Land Use Committee members asked for clarifications about the specific disruptions, and neighbors provided photos and videos documenting some of the traffic and parking congestion, along with a time-lapse video, taken in September, showing the number of people entering and exiting the building for Friday evening services. Several neighbors also expressed frustration with the slowness of the city’s reactions so far to the apparent violations at the property, including its non-residential use, extensive remodeling without proper permits, new structures built in the back yard without permits, and more.
But when committee chair Brian Curran likened the property, and the lengthy processes often required to get the city to shut it down, to the battles other local neighborhoods have had with party houses, committee member Jane Usher explained that this situation is actually fairly different under the law. That’s because, she said, while the city’s ordinances governing party houses are still fairly vague, city codes are very clear that houses of worship are non-residential uses, and cannot be operated in residential zones without a formal Change of Use from the city, and without a Conditional Use Permit that specifies things like the size of gatherings or assemblies allowed in the space, hours of use, types of activities allowed, traffic flow, and more. This property has neither of those at the moment, Usher said, so it should be easier for the city to issue citations and urge the property owners to bring the property into compliance with local laws. Realistically, that still won’t be a fast process, she said, but at least there is a clear set of rules that can be applied.
In the end, after each of the 21 neighbors in attendance testified that they support efforts to bring the property into compliance with applicable land use laws, the committee voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board request that the Planning Department require the owners of the building to apply for the required Conditional Use Permit, and that the Department of Building and Safety issue no further permits that would allow the building to be used as a synagogue unless and until a CUP is issued and the building is brought into compliance with all applicable codes for that use. In addition, committee members urged the neighbors to continue keeping records of activity at the location, to document possible code or use violations, and to compile them into a document that can easily be reviewed by city officials.
4820 W. Oakwood Ave.
The project proposed for this address would be a 5-story, 31-unit apartment complex, built under Transit Oriented Communities guidelines with three units reserved for Very Low Income tenants. The site comprises two currently vacant lots in an R-3 multi-family zone, where a previous single family home and a duplex were demolished by the owner in the last few years.
According to project representative Sean Nguyen, the developers would preserve an existing street tree in front of the site, add two more street trees, and also plant seven more trees in other locations around the building.
Land Use Committee members did not offer many comments on either the project details or the building’s style (which one member referred to as “TOC modern”), but they did note that this particular neighborhood has suffered a “big loss” in original character as most of the original single-family homes and small multi-unit buildings have been felled by a rapid and steady march of large new developments in the last few years. Usher offered “a moment of mourning for something that was beautiful,” and committee member Rory Cunningham noted that this project, like many others recently, “doesn’t give anything to the community” beyond the most basic requirements of TOC rules, in exchange for the loss of historic character that it represents.
After the very brief and dispirited discussion, the committee voted by a margin of 6-1 to recommend that the GWNC board oppose the project because the number of affordable units it contains, although meeting minimum requirements, is “inadequate” to offset the effects of the large new building on the community and its environment.
Other Business and Next Meeting
Although there were no other votes taken at this week’s meeting, the committee did have a brief discussion of the “builder’s remedy,” a legal mechanism several local municipalities (though NOT the City of Los Angeles) have been subjected to recently after not meeting their targets for affordable housing. The policy allows developers to bypass most zoning requirements in exchange for building the additional units or specifically affordable units the city is required to create. This discussion was purely informational however, so no votes were taken.
The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will take place on Tuesday, November 28, at 6:30 p.m. in room C-115 at Marlborough School, 250 S. Rossmore Ave. (While virtual meetings may resume at some point in the future, the Los Angeles City Council has not yet created a policy or mechanism for allowing neighborhood councils to resume meeting remotely, if they choose to do so, as allowed by the recent passage of California SB 411. Until such a policy is adopted, Neighborhood Council and committee meetings will continue to be held in person.)