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February 3, 2010

City Approves Valley Beth Shalom’s Proposed Makeover

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/city_approves_valley_beth_shaloms_proposed_makeover_20100203

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission ruled unanimously on Jan. 28 to approve an expansion project proposed by Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino.

The Commission voted 6-0 in support of the Conservative congregation’s plan for a new multi-level parking garage and four replacement buildings.

“We thought we had a very persuasive argument and a good reason that [the city] should endorse and approve it,” said Andy Hyman, President of VBS. “But getting a 6-0 vote surprised us. We are very thankful.”

The plan has critics, however, including Homeowners of Encino, a watchdog organization for Encino community issues, as well as some residents who live close to VBS and representatives from Douglas Emmett, which owns an adjacent office building. They have expressed concerns about the potential noise and traffic from the construction and voiced opposition to the parking garage, which will be built on the site of the existing parking lot. Some neighbors have posted “Stop VBS Expansion” signs outside their homes.

“We have been supportive of the project,” said Gerald Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, who spoke at the hearing. “The only part of it that’s not defensible is the parking [garage], given that you have residents directly across the street.”

The current parking lot sits behind the Douglas Emmett building. VBS hopes to demolish the lot and build a three-level garage with a roof deck for a playground.

Emmett offered to lease spaces from their parking structure to VBS — a cheaper option than building an entire new structure, they argued. VBS rejected the offer. “VBS is looking to be self-contained, self-sustaining, so we’re not dependent upon parking spaces in an adjacent facility,” Hyman said.

The groups opposed to the new parking structure say they may file an appeal against the Commission’s decision, but nothing official has been done as of Tuesday. If there is no appeal, the city’s decision is final.

Even if the ruling stands, construction will not start immediately. VBS officials said they must first secure funding.

The expansion of the synagogue, nursery school, day school, administrative facilities and social hall would increase total enrollment at VBS schools from 820 to 1,079 students. The idea for development started six years ago, when more children than could be accommodated applied to the nursery school. VBS hired an architect from Boston for the job.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and 5th District Councilman Paul Koretz have endorsed the project.

“We’re trying to be good neighbors,” said Hyman. “That is the real key to this. We are trying to be respectful of the community, and I think the community appreciates that.”

VBS is not the only congregation with ambitious construction plans. Others include Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Temple Judea and Temple Israel of Hollywood, which are also planning expansion of their facilities.

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