City zoning official approves building plans, but neighborhood group may still appeal


Goldie Fields

TRAFFIC: Residents of Barrows Drive, which goes west from Fairfax opposite Shalhevet, are afraid school traffic will clog their street in spite of no-left-turn and no entry signs.

By Alexa Fishman, Community Editor

A key city zoning administrator has promised to approve Shalhevet’s  building plans, meaning that construction could begin in October if no appeal is filed.  For now though, the building’s sale to Alliance Residential — which plans to build apartments on the part of the school’s lot where classes are meeting now — has still not gone through.

On Sept. 4, Associate Zoning Administrator Fernando Tovar presided over a four-hour construction hearing at Los Angeles City Hall downtown. When it was over, Mr. Tovar said he would support the plans of Shalhevet and Alliance Residential, because Alliance wants to beautify the area and voluntarily improve traffic flow.

But according to Ms. Renee Wietzer, who represented City Councilman Tom LaBonge in support of Shalhevet, residents of nearby Barrows Drive may still appeal.

“An appeal will depend on whether Alliance will be able to do a private agreement with the people of Barrows Drive,” said Ms. Wietzer, who attended the hearing, in an interview later.  An agreement that satisfied the residents would make them less likely to keep fighting the project.

“It is not expensive for the public to appeal, [but] hopefully they won’t,”  Ms. Wietzer said.

The Erev Rosh Hashanah hearing was the final step in the city approval process.  Only the group from Barrows Drive protested.

Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal had asked a few parents and students to attend and show their support for the project, which envisions a new three-story building at the north (Sport Court) end of Shalhevet’s current campus.  Among those who came were juniors Max Helfand and Sigal Spitzer and senior Sarah Soroudi, along with parents Cindy Drazin, Mark Rothman, Claire Benyowitz and Shep Rosenman.

They came even though the proceeding was only hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah, packing into a small room that was completely filled with rows of chairs.

Alliance’s Managing Director, Drew Colquitt, addressed Mr. Tovar on behalf of Alliance Residential. Mr. Colquitt described his company’s interest in developing the community through affordable apartments and neighborhood-serving retail.

Rabbi Segal presented Shalhevet’s building plans, and many residents spoke in favor of the project and on behalf of Alliance’s reputation and the Shalhevet community.

Max Helfand, one of the seven students present, stood in front of Mr. Tovar and explained why Shalhevet needs a bigger building.

“A bigger building would mean bigger classrooms, and more opportunities for every student on campus,” said Max.  “It would help prepare students like me to be leaders, so that we can give back to the Los Angeles community in the future.”

The school’s board president, Mr. Larry Gill, passionately pleaded with Mr. Tovar to issue a ruling soon, explaining that further delays could postpone the opening of the new school building, now set for 2014.

But residents of Barrows Drive, a residential street which runs east-and-west between San Vicente and Fairfax, spent 90 minutes expressing concerns about traffic implications for their street. This caused the hearing, which was supposed to end by noon, to continue past 2 pm.

Barrows residents predicted that the project would cause drivers to cut through Barrows Dr. instead of using Wilshire or Olympic boulevards, and would also drive too fast down the street, endangering residents. They asked that Barrows, which already is closed to left turns from Fairfax, be closed to any through traffic at all.

Mr. Tovar, the zoning administrator, replied that construction would not noticeably impact the traffic flow on Barrows Drive, so their complaints could not legally be linked to the plan’s approval.  But even if an appeal were not successful, it could still delay the project for a few weeks or months.

According to many statements by Shalhevet officials over the last year, construction was originally supposed to begin this past summer.  But getting approval from the city of Los Angeles took longer than expected,  which meant delaying demolition of the old building until the city gives the project the green light.

Board president Mr. Gill said the new building can’t be built without money from the sale of the land to Alliance, and the sale won’t be finalized until the permits are granted.

“As a prerequisite to building an apartment complex, the developer, Alliance Residential Properties, needed to get a number of approvals from the city of Los Angeles,” Mr. Gill said, adding,  “Since Los Angeles has a pretty developed bureaucracy, it took a long time to get the approval.”

RELATED: Shalhevet wins construction appeal; construction to begin within 60 days