A Los Angeles preservation office has ordered the controversial removal of more than 100 trees at the landmark Chase Knolls garden apartments stopped until an investigation of its historic landscaping.
The Office of Historic Resources has intervened in a heated dispute between residents of the historic Sherman Oaks apartments and their landlord over the cutting down of 138 mature trees, city officials said.
Its director, Ken Bernstein, wanted to make sure a plan by its owner-developer to remove the trees during a construction upgrade conforms with its city landmark status, said Estevan Montemayor, a spokesman for Councilman David Ryu, whose district includes the disputed trees.
“Ken Bernstein had asked the developers to stop the removal of the trees until he could confirm that they were in compliance with the original landscape plan approved by the Cultural (Heritage) Commission,” Montemayor said. “Our office initiated this, following the concern of residents.
“The council feels strongly that the developers need to comply with the approved landscape plan.”
The owner of Chase Knolls had angered residents by moving forward with a plan to install plumbing and power lines at the 67-year-old historic apartment complex.
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The utility upgrade not only would require the removal of eucalyptus, jacaranda, ficus and other trees throughout the block-size complex. It would require the razing of its 200 carports.
Residents have criticized what they say were flawed city permits taken out by owner Waterton Associates and approved by a city rent-control housing agency.
They say the construction work could be a precursor to the construction of six new apartment buildings containing 141 units inside the Chase Knolls block at 13401 Riverside Drive approved by the City Council a decade ago. The building entitlement ends in February.
At a heated town hall meeting on the Chase Knolls construction issue organized by Ryu last month, the property owner said the utility upgrade would “allow our work in the future,” with the carport removal to add additional parking.
Residents said the carport demolition, tree removal and additional apartments would mean a loss of services and added congestion to an increasingly crowded Sherman Oaks neighborhood.
An environmental study in 2003 specified no more than 65 trees be removed during apartment construction, which was half the number specified in the current permit. Residents have called for a supplemental environmental impact report be done.
“It is an issue we’re taking a look at,” Bernstein said. “We are looking at the trees and the original approvals.”
Until Wednesday, about a dozen trees had been cut down, residents said. The current construction stoppage does not include the carport removal.
Designed by noted African architect Ralph Vaughn, Chase Knolls was built in 1949 on a 13-acre former dairy farm during the postwar Valley population boom. Following a fierce preservation battle, the garden apartments were named a city historic-cultural monument in 2000.
Residents were relieved that at least the tree removal had been stopped temporarily.
“It’s about time that the city government started paying attention to the law,” said Aaron Gold, who has lived there 14 years. “The city needs to halt this illegal construction work and to start enforcing the laws that protect tenants.”