Locals Seek to Stop “By-Right” Mansion
LOS FELIZ—After the Los Angeles Dept. of Building and Safety denied their appeal August 29th, a group of hillside homeowners are now seeking other remedies to prevent the construction of a 16,346 square-foot home on Glendower Avenue in the hills near Griffith Park.
Residents opposed to the project, which would combine two properties owned by celebrity hairstylist Chaz Dean into one six-bedroom, five-bathroom estate, complete with an underground gym, sauna and bowling alley, cite both scale and safety issues with the development they say would dwarf nearby homes.
Leading the charge against the project is Ann Whitford Paul, who lives near the development on Catalina Street.
Paul has compared the project to “a whale surrounded by minnows” and “a bowling ball in a game of marbles.” In other words, it’s big—much bigger than any other home in the area and, according to Paul, much too big for the neighborhood.
Paul and some of her neighbors, who share those concerns, contacted their city councilmember, David Ryu. The councilmember was able to delay a city hearing on the project and held two community meetings on the topic, but said there was little else he could do.
“The intention of these … meetings was to come up with compromises that were suitable for the neighbors,” said Ryu spokesperson Estevan Montemayor.
And while some compromises were reached—including a reduction in the amount of dirt being removed for the project’s construction, a phone number for residents to call with any issues during construction, and attendants to direct traffic around the construction site—Montemayor said the council district’s hands were tied in regards to restricting the project’s size.
“The applicant’s project is ‘by-right,’” said Montemayor, meaning it is legally permitted under zoning laws, so neighbors have little recourse to prevent it from being built.
At issue is the city’s Baseline Hillside Ordinance, neighborhood-specific construction guidelines created in 2008 to prevent out-of-scale development and excessive hillside grading. The ordinance was updated in March 2017 with more stringent height, square-footage and grading limits.
Although Dean’s project, if submitted today, would not be allowed under the current restrictions, because it was submitted prior to the update, the project was grandfathered in under the old version of the law.
So some area homeowners appealed the haul route—the path construction trucks will drive to and from the site, proposed to go along Glendower Avenue, Catalina Street and Los Feliz Boulevard—claiming it would cause significant inconvenience as well as potential safety issues.
“The applicant is requesting removal of 8,500 cubic yards of dirt in 85 days,” the August 4th appeal, written by Paul on behalf of herself and others, reads. “If each truck carries 10 cubic yards of dirt, this would amount to a total of 1,700 trips … or 20 trips a day, or [four] per hour, or one truck every fifteen minutes.”
But according to the appeal, what would simply be an inconvenience on an ordinary street, presents a safety hazard on the narrow, winding roads that characterize the hills of Los Feliz.
“The prospect of having heavy dump trucks driving around these blind curves … is alarming and unsafe,” the appeal reads. “In addition, there is the danger and inconvenience of many dump trucks trying to turn from Catalina Street onto highly trafficked Los Feliz Boulevard at an intersection where there is no traffic signal.”
Additionally, the appeal, which the city ultimately denied, cites geological concerns, claiming landslides occurred in the area during previous construction and rains.
That is the primary concern for Nyla Arslanian, who lives on Edgemont Street, directly below the project on the downslope of the hill.
According to Arslanian, she and her husband have poured thousands of dollars, at the recommendation of a geologist, into reinforcing the hillside they share with Dean, which she said has a “50-year history of problems with landslides” between the two properties.
“We’ve also experienced water seeping into our garage and under the house during rainy season[s] and a few times when the property above was overwatered,” Arslanian said in an email.
Arslanian said she worries the removal of so much dirt to build the project could further destabilize the hillside and cause more damage to her property.
“With this history, you can see why we have been very concerned about the planned grading and changes to the topography of the hillside,” Arslanian said. “Although we have been assured that the retaining walls being planned will ‘make the hill better,’ we are forced to trust the builder and the city that that is in fact true.”
But despite their disagreement, Arslanian said, she still likes Dean.
“Chaz [Dean] has been our neighbor for 10 years, and we’ve considered him a good neighbor,” she said. “He’s not a bad person, and I tried to assure him it wasn’t anything personal. We’re just opposed to the project.”
According to Arslanian, Dean made a verbal promise to her that he would pay for any damage caused to her property. Now, she said, she seeks to get that promise in writing.
As for Paul, she and her neighbors along the haul route are looking into other options.
“We are exploring, with an attorney, to see if there might be a case based on environmental or procedural issues,” she said.
Dean declined to be interviewed, but issued the following statement through a spokesperson: “I love Los Feliz and have called it my home for 10 years. As a member of the community, who supports the community, I have ensured that we are fully compliant with the Hillside Ordinance and the municipal code of Los Angeles. Safety is the number one priority and we have put safeguards in place to limit the impact on neighbors and stabilize the property from potential risk.”
Dean’s spokesperson did not respond to a request to clarify what specific safeguards would be implemented on deadline.