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From the Los Angeles Times,

A Civic War Is Brewing Over 'Tara' Estate

Officials hope to build low-income housing on the property, a designated historic site and link to the past. Critics say leave it alone.

By Bob Pool, Times Staff Writer

Is a West Hollywood historic district about to become, well, history?

Some residents worry that is what will happen if a $4.2-million apartment building is constructed on the wooded grounds of the Colonial-style estate they call "Tara."

Critics of the redevelopment say it's a betrayal of the woman who gave the Laurel Avenue estate to the city when she was 101, thinking it would be maintained as a cultural resource.

It was the city, after all, that slapped the "historic" designation on Elsie Weisman's property in 1994 to prevent Weisman and her family from turning it into an apartment building back then.

The estate is shaded by a forest of 66 trees and 44 tropical shrubs. Weisman described the place as "a veritable jungle and bird oasis in a desert of apartment buildings that have superseded the lovely homes that once stood on this block."

But now, municipal officials and two development partners have obtained a grant from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to build 35 apartments for low-income senior citizens there.

Officials propose wrapping a three-story apartment building around part of Weisman's house. Her two-story white clapboard dwelling would be turned into a common area for tenants and a community meeting place.

A small public "pocket park" would be carved out of a corner of the front yard of the estate at 1343 Laurel Ave.

City redevelopment administrators say the apartments would help ease a severe shortage of affordable rental units for senior citizens in West Hollywood.

Critics complain that the project would wipe out the oasis that Weisman so loved by covering much of the only large estate to survive from West Hollywood's orchard era.

"This cheesy senior citizen housing would dwarf the house. There are so many other things the city could do with this property," said floral designer Allegra Allison. "The city needs a library. This place would be a perfect library."

Allison knows the Weisman property well. She has lived there 25 years. Two others also live in apartments created in the huge house by Weisman's family in 1941. A fourth rents the estate's onetime chauffeur's cottage at the rear of the property.

Tenant Kent Woker, a chef who has lived there 10 years, said arborists surveying the double-wide, 160-by-190-foot deep lot for redevelopment have tagged only five of its 66 trees to be saved.

The foliage had been one of the selling points for Elsie Weisman's father, Adolph Linick, when he moved the family to Los Angeles from Chicago in the early 1920s. Linick, an amusement arcade owner, purchased the estate in 1924 for $35,000.

In her memoir "A Journal of Remembered Years," Weisman explained that the property reminded her family of their home in Illinois. The house, built in 1915, was framed by deodara cedars and, in the rear, "10 huge eucalyptus trees, then already more than 50 years old, planted to form a windbreak when this district was farmland."

Weisman described the Lombardy poplars, a grape arbor, pepper trees ("two with red pepper berries, two with green"), apricot and tangerine trees, and black acacias. Over the years, overhead utility lines were sometimes engulfed by some of the larger trees. But "I have always adamantly resisted their removal," she wrote.

By 1988, real estate developers were eyeing Weisman's property. Although she refused to sell, she and family members were rattled when West Hollywood officials talked of writing a landmarks ordinance that son Richard Weisman feared would make the property "next to worthless."

Richard Weisman, a retired developer who lives in Calabasas Park, said that a few years later he proposed building a 55-unit project on the site.

But the city rebuffed him, moving instead to make the estate "a local cultural resource." It is now designated a city historic landmark and is listed as a state historic resource.

"We didn't think the place should be on the list. But since they put it there, it should be protected," said the 77-year-old Weisman, who was born in the Laurel Avenue house.

"I feel betrayed by the city. Part of their argument back then was these trees are 75 years old and shouldn't be destroyed. My mother would turn over if she knew what was happening."

Blocked from redeveloping the site, Elsie Weisman donated the property to the city in 1997 in exchange for tax benefits, permission to continue living the remainder of her life there and a pledge that her tenants could stay after her death, he said. She died in 2000.

"I'm waiting for the first chop," her son said of the trees. "I have my attorneys ready."

Although the City Council has not signed off on the project, officials are moving ahead with redevelopment planning. Relocation fees of about $40,000 were discussed last week for each of the four tenants ‹ who include 26-year-resident Sandy Dugas, an office administrator, and 83-year-old Sandy Linick, a relative of Adolph Linick who has lived there 27 years.

Jeff Skorneck, housing manager for the city's Rent Stabilization and Housing Department, said he had not seen the arborists' tree-removal report.

"What would really disappoint me was if the project was sunk through misinformation," he said.

Project designer John Mutlow, a private architect and a professor at USC, said the proposed three-story apartments would not rise higher than the Weisman house's peaked roof.

The 575-square-foot apartments would rent to low-income senior citizens for about $200 a month. Although HUD rules specify that poor senior citizens from across the country could sign up for the units, they would probably be claimed by Los Angeles-area residents picked through a lottery, said Paul Zimmerman, executive director of the nonprofit West Hollywood Community Housing Corp., one of the city's partners in the project.

The apartment plan and HUD's involvement have drawn fire from City Councilman Sal Guarriello, who at 84 is a longtime advocate for West Hollywood's senior citizens.

"It's unconscionable to think we have a great piece of historical property here and the West Hollywood Corp. doesn't go out and do the right thing," Guarriello said. "It should be left alone. Build a three-story U-shaped building around it? No way."

Public hearings on the project will be scheduled.

But for now, people in West Hollywood are wondering whether "Tara" will follow its namesake and end up gone with the wind.

Council Moves to Explore Options For Development at Historic Home
Written by
Edwin Folven, courtesy of Beverly Press/Park La Brea News

The West Hollywood City Council voted Monday to formally explore plans to convert the site of an old home on Laurel Avenue into a complex with 35 units of affordable housing for seniors and the disabled.

The decision was made during a sometimes raucous meeting where dozens of residents and others spoke in opposition or support for the project. More than 70 speakers turned in slips to address the council. Many of them were senior citizens who were bused to the meeting by the proposed developer, the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC), and were given signs to hold in support of affordable housing, as well as food.

The old Colonial-style home, nicknamed “Tara” by a handful of residents still living there, is located at 1343 N. Laurel Ave. and shares the street with several large condominium and apartment buildings. The home was donated to the city by long-time resident Elsie Weisman in 1997 and has been designated a cultural resource because it is an example of the large single family homes that were once common in West Hollywood.

After Weisman passed away in 2000, the city began exploring potential uses for the property and received a $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last November to convert the site into affordable housing. Current plans call for an apartment building to be constructed on the rear portion of the property, while the existing old house would be renovated into additional units. A small park is planned for the front of the property where a collection of decades-old trees are located. 

The issue has angered many people in the local community who believe the site should remain as it is or should be used as a park or community gathering place. A group called “Save Tara” has formed in opposition to the plan, and several members addressed the council on Monday. While members of the group said they are not opposed to affordable housing, they said the city should look into alternatives to building at the site.

“There are all sorts of other issues and alternatives that they refuse to explore,” West Hollywood resident Jack Merrill said. “Elsie Weisman gave this property to the city believing it would be saved as a historical site, not for the city to build on. These councilmembers need to be held accountable for their actions because they are not doing what the people want.”

Richard Weisman, the son of original owner Elsie Weisman, said he has retained an attorney to block attempts by the city to convert the property, and vowed to fight the project. The Weisman’s originally tried to develop the site into market rate apartments in the early 1990s but were denied permission by the city, which designated the property as a cultural resource. Weisman said it is unfair for the city to deny the family permission to build on the property and then later plan its own project. He added that the site should be turned into a resource to benefit the entire community.

“My mother’s wishes were that her home would remain the way it is. We thought that would be the end of it, but now they are trying to take away one of the only spots left to create a park,” Weisman said. “I think the final answer will come between the attorneys. I plan to fight them all the way.”

West Hollywood City Attorney Michael Jenkins said the city is within its rights to move forward with the plan and added that the agreement between Weisman and the city did not stipulate whether the property could be developed in the future. He stressed that the decision to move forward only shows the city’s formal commitment to build on the site and allows the city to begin the necessary preparations such as an environmental impact report.

Katherine A. Trisolini, the attorney representing Weisman, said the city may be in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act by moving forward with plans without preparing an environmental impact report or allowing public input.

“We are asking that the city slow down and comply with this requirement,” Trisolini said. “The city has gotten momentum behind the project without adequately looking at alternatives.”

The council directed its staff to begin the process of compiling an environmental imapct report and promised to provide plenty of chances for public input during the planning process. The project would have to go before the city’s historic preservation committee, public facilities commission, planning commission and the city council again before being approved, and the public would be able to provide input on the project at every stage, West Hollywood Mayor John Duran said.

“The one thing I’ve learned during my four years on the council is that where we start and where we end never look the same,” Duran added. “This house does not belong to me, it does not belong to the people living there, it belongs to all of us. The only way to determine what is best is for it to go through a public review.”

The council was split on the decision to move forward with plans, voting 3-1 with one abstention. Councilmembers Duran, Abbe Land and John Heilman voted in favor of the project, while Councilmember Jeffrey Prang voted against it, and Councilmember Sal Guarriello abstained.

Both Land and Heilman said they are strongly in favor of building affordable housing and added that the opportunity to develop the site should not be missed. There is currently a long waiting list for any available units designated as affordable housing within the city

“I think the need for affordable housing is critical in this city.” Land said. “I really tried hard to think about the pros and cons, and I really do feel that by working together we can come up with a way to meet the goals of the people who want to preserve the house and meet the goal of providing some affordable housing.”

Prang said he is concerned that the city would be missing one of its last opportunities to create a park if the project is built and said he fears the construction would damage the house. He added that he is in favor of creating affordable housing but not at the expense of losing one of the city’s cultural resources.

“The house and the property are all that remain of an earlier time in West Hollywood. The proposed project would compromise that view of the past,” Prang said. “I think the historical integrity of the building and the environment could be irreparably damaged. I think the city was wise to designate the property as a cultural resource when it did, and I have grave concerns that this project might compromise that designation.”     

The council directed city staff to plan a series of public meetings and granted permission for the developer to have an architectural design created. The council also directed staff to organize a series of public meetings to discuss the project that should occur within the next 90 days. 

From the West Hollywood Independent
City Backtracks off Potential PR Disaster

The Independent Staff Writer 21.SEP.05

Taking a step to avoid what some viewed as tantamount to a public relations disaster, West Hollywood city officials decided not to sue two residents whom they had successfully evicted from a piece of city-owned property in order to recover over $10,000 in attorney fees.
In a closed session meeting on Monday night, officials agreed not to sue residents Allegra Allison and Kent Woker to recoup legal expenses incurred after taking into account the potential backlash they would face from the community.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” said Councilman Jeffrey Prang in a Tuesday interview. “I think it would have been a public relations debacle to evict someone from city property and then tried to get money from them even if there was a legal justification for it.”
Allison, who several minutes earlier received news that the city has undergone a change of heart, said she was both “thrilled” and “relieved.”
“I think dropping the suit against us was the right thing to do,” Allison said. “They did the right thing. They did the honorable thing, you know?”
Both Woker and Allison, a 28-year tenant, had lived in a quaint West Hollywood Colonial mansion on 1343 N. Laurel Ave., affectionately dubbed as “Tara” for its resemblance to the house in “Gone with the Wind.
In the past year, the Laurel Avenue property— which was donated to the city by its former owner Elsie Weisman in 1997—has been slated for the construction of 35 affordable senior housing units.
Allison and Woker have vehemently opposed the affordable senior housing project, claiming it would destroy the historic legacy of “Tara,” and are part of a local preservation group that filed lawsuits to delay the project from moving forward.
They also refused to move out of the property, arguing they were being prematurely evicted by the city as an environmental impact study had not been completed and was months away from being approved by the City Council.
But in late July, the city of West Hollywood was handed a victory by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who decided that the tenant evictions were in order. Six weeks later, Jenkins filed a motion to recoup legal expenses in the amount of $10,379.



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