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More park space to open on Laurel

By Edwin Folven, 1/24/2013

‘Save Tara’ advocates pleased with city council’s decision

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The West Hollywood City Council on Tuesday approved a plan to preserve the property at 1343 N. Laurel Ave. and open more of the site to the public.

The decision is latest step in a 10-year saga involving the site, on which the city originally attempted to build senior housing. A single-family house on the property, which preservationists nicknamed “Tara” after the residence in “Gone With the Wind”, has been designated a historic resource. The West Hollywood City Council on Monday approved a plan to stabilize the 1917 house from the elements and any further damage while it ponders long-term uses at the property. In 2011, the city opened the grounds in front of the house as a public park, but a large portion of the south and rear areas of the site remained closed. After the decision Tuesday, an additional 8,170 square feet of greenspace will open on the south side of the site.

West Hollywood resident Allegra Allison, a member of the group known as “Save Tara” that fought to preserve the site, said she is encouraged by the move to open more of the property and preserve the house, but added that it has taken far too long.

“It’s insane to have to go through a ten-year process,” Allison said. “We tried to preserve this wonderful resource, and came up against a brick wall. This really is a solid thing that the residents of this city want, and the city is finally giving it back to the residents.”

The property was donated to the city by longtime resident Elsie Weisman, who died in 2000. Allison and others associated with the preservation effort claimed it was one of the last remaining examples of the single-family homes that were once common in West Hollywood, and sought to keep the property intact.

City officials took a different path, however, and in the early 2000s moved forward with the plan for senior housing, eventually receiving a $4.2 million federal HUD grant to build the project. The preservationists later sued the city and won, with the state Supreme Court ruling that the city could not demolish the house or dramatically alter the property because it did not address the environmental impacts of the proposed senior housing. The HUD grant was forfeited because it particularly applied to the Laurel Avenue site. In 2011, the West Hollywood City Council officially dropped plans to build the housing project.

The city council’s latest decision preserves the Colonial-style house. Approximately $1.5 million will be used to fix the roof, improve structural deficiencies, remove any hazardous materials and repair interior spaces. The funding will also be used to preserve a chauffeur’s cottage on the property and some other small structures. Mayor Jeffrey Prang said the city will no longer have to worry about future damage to the structures while the council and residents work together to determine long-term uses for “Tara”.

“There were some immediate things that required stabilization while the planning process continues,” Prang said. “We are going to move expeditiously to maintain the property to ensure the asset is in good shape when we determine a final use.”

Lisa Belsanti, a senior management analyst for West Hollywood, said the process will begin in February and March, when community meetings will be scheduled to gather input on what should be done with the property. City staff will then evaluate the information and draft plans based on community input, and the issue will be examined in committees before the city council weighs in on final proposal, possibly sometime in the late summer or early fall.

“It is moving forward in a bureaucratic way,” Belsanti said.

Prang said the city is “taking too long” to decide what to do with the property, which he said should be a resource for the community. While no uses have been identified so far, Prang said he would like to see the house converted into community rooms and space for a non-profit organization.

“[The effort to build senior housing] has cost a lot of money. I don’t have a figure, but it’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. When we put a lot of planning into the housing program, in the end we got sued and lost, and the [federal] funding was lost. I always opposed [the senior housing plan] because I think it should have been a park. I certainly would have rather spent that money on a project that had support. It’s part of democracy and government, and it’s unfortunate in the end, but I think we can now move forward with something the community wants.”

The city of West Hollywood is planning to open more green space at the property at 1343 N. Laurel Ave. The city had planned to build senior housing at the site, but a lawsuit forced the city to abandon the plan. The property has since been used as park space. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

Allison also said she would like to see community space created in the house, such as a place for music, meetings and lectures.

“The city is [allowing] the community to decide,” she said. “I started to fight for exactly this end, in June 2003, ten years ago in a few months. It will now be right. We have a park and an exciting possibility for the future. I can’t wait to see what the outcome is.”

 

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