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Talk to the Sign, Neighbors: Highland Park Condo Project Hangs On

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Who needs community meetings when you can just post your renderings for the world to see? For the last two weeks, this sign was up at the corner of Avenue 66 and Crescent Street in the Garvanza section of Highland Park, the notice talking up a seven-unit condo building. Not surprisingly, there's a tangled mess behind the story of the sign: Developer Alex Ma has stated he wants to tear down two homes on the site for his building, while locals in the neighborhood--an area known for its historical late 19th and early 20th century homes--want him to incorporate the structures in his condo development. It's a "volatile and contentious situation," says Tina Gulotta-Miller, Secretary of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, who has been battling Ma for years over the site. Who knows why exactly the sign was put up (presumably it was put up by Ma or an associate), but is it supposed to taunt the neighbors? Get them on his side?

While the purpose of the sign may not be clear, Ma originally submitted plans to the city back in 2006 to tear down the two homes on the site, and put up the condo project. According to a rep for the Dept of City Planning, Ma was told by the department to do an environmental impact report for his condo building because of the historical nature of the bigger house. Ma, who didn't respond to request for comment, hasn't completed an EIR yet.

But complicating his plans is the fact that this neighborhood is in process of being designated an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), a label that makes altering residences more difficult. Once the HPOZ is in place, "he would have to get approval to tear down [the homes]," says Charlie J. Fisher, Co-chair of the Garvanza Improvement Association. "Which he won’t get from the HPOZ board."

Both Gullata-Miller and Fisher believe that Ma could preserve the two existing homes, and build his seven units on the site. "I've said to him, 'take the existing structures, you got three units and they could be converted to condos,'" says Fisher, who works as a historical consultant. "And you have space to build out the rest."

For now, neighbors have to deal with a boarded up properties, which haven't seen tenants in years, according to Gullata-Miller. She also accuses Ma of trying to tear down the larger home three years ago, and says he was only stopped when neighbors came out and called the city to complain.

Meanwhile, back to that big sign. Building and Safety launched an investigation after a complaint was made, and the sign was removed yesterday.

And for those interested in the HPOZ issues, there's a workshop tonight (6pm and on) for the proposed designation at the Highland Park Senior Citizen Center 6152 N. Figueroa St. This new HPOZ would essentially expand the existing HPOZ and rename the whole area to the Highland Park-Garvanza HPOZ. It's expected the study will go before the Cultural Heritage Commission on July 15th.

405 N AVENUE 66, los angeles