January 29, 2009
Plans for Two Senior Living Facilities Stir Controversy
The story is much the same in both Los Angeles and Long Beach: The proposed construction of a senior assisted-living facility has created heated controversy, pitting residents against developers, and, in both instances, laying the groundwork for costly legal battles.
In Los Angeles, residents of the neighborhood known as South Carthay — an area the city has declared one of 24 Historic Preservation Overlay Zones — continue to wage a battle against the construction of a senior assisted-living facility on La Cienega Boulevard, directly across from Temple Beth Am.
Afraid that the planned five-story, 175-unit, approximately 150,000-square-foot facility could destroy the integrity of the bordering neighborhood — an area recognized for its 1930s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture — residents have delayed the plans of developer Dean Isaacson for years.
Now, residents of a neighborhood in Long Beach known as Chateau Thierry have engaged in a legal battle with Isaacson, fighting the construction of a five-story, 65-unit, approximately 70,000-square-foot, nondenominational senior assisted-living facility on the lot of Temple Beth Shalom, an area surrounded by single-family homes, an elementary school and other places of worship, including a Mormon church.
Although the Long Beach City Council unanimously approved the project with a vote of 8-0, a resident of the neighborhood has filed a lawsuit against the city, and other residents are complaining that the city council, and those behind the project, never adequately considered the concerns they have about the new building.
Residents are afraid that the senior assisted-living facility will prove too tall and dense for the neighborhood.
“The principal objection all along has been to the height,” said Jim Hannigan, a 15-year resident of the neighborhood, who filed the lawsuit on Dec. 15, 2008.
“It’s apparent as you look around the neighborhood that there are other uses in the area,” Hannigan said, acknowledging that the neighborhood is not solely surrounded by residential homes. “But at this point you’re going to have this extreme jump.”
According to Hannigan, a majority of those in the immediate area signed a petition voicing their lack of support for the project.
“We just wanted it to be lower and less dense,” said Odette Perreault, a local teacher and nine-year resident. “We have no problem with seniors. We have no problem with senior housing.”
Hannigan and other residents also have concerns about the lack of consideration given to the project’s potential environmental impact. Hannigan argues that because the project has the potential to increase traffic congestion and therefore decrease air quality, the city should have mandated a more thorough environmental investigation.
In the Los Angeles neighborhood of South Carthay, the concerns are much the same.
“Something that big is going to overwhelm a cultural and historical neighborhood,” said Steve Friedland, a member of the South Carthay Neighborhood Association.
Although the neighborhood association had at one point agreed to the construction of a scaled-down, five-story facility, some members, including Friedland, dissented, and the matter ultimately went to court. Now, plans for the project have changed and new litigation over a larger, five-story building is likely to begin, primarily over issues concerning density and the facility’s potential environmental impact.
Friedland says he would be happy with the construction of a smaller facility but acknowledges that recent changes to the city’s density-bonus ordinance have given developers like Isaacson more leverage. The ordinance allows developers to build bigger, as long as a certain percentage of low-income units are included in the project.
Friedland says that ultimately he doesn’t blame Isaacson but rather the district’s city councilman for allowing the construction of a building of that size.
“Mr. Weiss has never met a developer he didn’t like,” Friedland said, referring to Jack Weiss, the councilman in charge of the district where the project will be developed.
“We’ve had to fight like crazy to maintain any sort of neighborhood.”
Councilman Weiss, however, notes that the impact of the project on the neighborhood is not as severe as other commercial development.
“The senior living project, with greatly needed affordable-housing units and Alzheimer units, would have less traffic impact than any other commercial development,” he said.
Past president of Temple Beth Shalom’s board of directors, Jerry Kaufman, is the project manager for the senior assisted-living facility planned for Long Beach. Kaufman argues that there is a dire need for senior housing, and says, despite the lawsuit, construction on the lot of Temple Beth Shalom will go on as planned.
“Gonna have to defend, that’s all,” he said.
Kaufman said the neighborhood provided the ideal location for a senior living facility, precisely because it is surrounded by churches and private homes, and that the churches in the area support the project.
“Nobody ever thinks about senior living being in their own neighborhood,” he said.
Bruce Labins is the architect behind both projects, and said the facilities will feature many amenities. In Long Beach, the building will include a salon, gym, library, fireplace room and subterranean parking. Six units will be reserved for low-income seniors. The Los Angeles facility will feature many of the same amenities but on a larger scale, though it will also boast a movie theater. A greater number of units, approximately 14, will be dedicated to low-income seniors.
Labins also said that those behind the building of the facilities have worked hard to address the concerns of residents. In Los Angeles, for example, Labins said they plan to have the main building of the facility match the Spanish architecture found in the surrounding neighborhood.
“It’s all done to reduce the impact of the project on the neighborhood behind us,” he said.
But despite what backers of the project say have been concerted efforts to meet the opposition in the middle, residents of both neighborhoods remain unhappy and continue to fear that the designated use of the facilities will trump any concerns they have.
“The use is the royal flush,” Perreault said. “What do you say when the applicant is God and old people?”