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Chabad of North Hollywood expansion moves toward reapproval [UPDATED]

by Jonah Lowenfeld

June 26, 2012 | 11:56 pm

Supporters of Chabad of North Hollywood's expansion project wait to address the Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee on June 26. Photo by Jonah Lowenfeld

UPDATE: In a unanimous vote taken shortly after 12 noon on Wed., June 27, the Los Angeles City Council voted to adopt findings submitted that had been considered by the Planning and Land Use Management committee one day earlier, thereby clearing the way for Chabad of North Hollywood to continue building its new home on West Chandler Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee sided with supporters of an expansion project for the Chabad of North Hollywood on June 26, moving the partially completed project one step closer to reapproval.

People spilled out into the aisles of the session room at Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, where the PLUM committee decided to uphold a decision taken by City Council three years earlier that allowed construction to commence on the 12,000 square-foot synagogue, which sits on West Chandler Boulevard near Valley College, in Sherman Oaks.

The new building, which could accommodate up to 200 worshippers, is about eight times the size of the synagogue’s former home, which occupied the same site. The size of the building rankled some neighbors, who have been opposing the construction since the project was first announced in 2008.

Earlier this year, the neighborhood group won a ruling from the California Court of Appeal that ordered the city council to set aside its initial approval, which is what led to Tuesday’s hearing.

The neighbors opposing the project argued that the expansion would change the character of their neighborhood. They were significantly outnumbered at City Hall by Chabad supporters on Tuesday, however.

Bearded men wearing yarmulkes and women sporting ankle-length skirts had all come out to urge the PLUM committee to allow Chabad to continue its expansion project. One woman, who said she lived across the street from the Chabad house, even brought three of her young children with her to the lectern.

The Chabad supporters collectively argued that their community had outgrown its previous building, that the new building would be an improvement to the neighborhood and that because they are Orthodox Jews who do not drive to synagogue, the expansion would not have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

The committee sided with Chabad, adopting a set of “findings” drawn up by Chabad’s attorney that attempted to explain why the initial 2008 decision to approve a 10,300 square-foot building, taken by a Department of City Planning employee, was an error, and why the City Council’s ruling in 2009 to allow the larger building currently being built to go up, was, in fact, correct.

The two members of the committee present for the hearing, Councilman Ed Reyes and Councilman Jose Huizar, decided on Tuesday to adopt those findings, and send the entire matter on to the City Council. The decisive opinion that pushed PLUM to side with Chabad appears to have been conveyed by a staff member from the office of Councilman Paul Koretz, whose current district includes the neighborhood where Chabad is located.

“Our office is in support of those revised findings before you today,” Shawn Bayliss, a deputy in Koretz’s office, told the committee, noting that his office had reviewed the materials “exhaustively” and had consulted with all parties.

Rabbi Aaron Abend, the leader of Chabad of North Hollywood, called the outcome “the right decision.”

Jeff Gantman, one of the neighbors who led the opposition, expressed frustration at what he felt was a preordained outcome. “We knew this was going to happen,” Gantman said. “This project was a fait accompli.”

Reyes, who chairs the PLUM committee, disagreed.

“They got a fair hearing,” Reyes said

Having adopted those findings, the matter now moves to the full City Council for approval on Wednesday, June 27, at 10am.

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