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Developers of veterans housing project will not appeal city ruling

May 29, 2009 | 12:08 pm

Developers of a proposed veterans housing complex in North Hills have decided not to appeal a city zoning department ruling that blocked the project, but said they would continue to evaluate their options.

The decision not to appeal does not end the project, which seeks to convert two vacant earthquake-damaged medical buildings at the Sepulveda Veterans Affairs complex into 147 studio apartments for homeless and disabled veterans, the developers said.

But whether to continue to build the Homes for Heroes complex, and how this might be achieved, was still being considered, they said.

“We have lots of investigations to do about what it would take if we do decide to move forward,” said Toni Reinis, executive director of New Directions Inc., a social support and treatment services group that would be the on-site service provider at the proposed apartment complex.

A Community of Friends, a nonprofit developer of affordable homes, would build the homes on seven acres of land leased from the Veterans Administration for 75 years.

This month, the city of Los Angeles Zoning Administration determined that the city did not have the jurisdiction to issue a variance for developing the property because it is federal land. The developers had until May 28 to appeal.

“We didn’t feel there was anything for us to appeal, since the city doesn’t have land-use jurisdiction over federal land,” Reinis said.

The proposed development has been met with staunch opposition from veterans, and homeowners groups located in the vicinity of the Sepulveda VA. They want the apartments returned to medical use, restoring the complex to the full-service facility it once was -- with urgent care and emergency services.

They also view the 75-year length of the lease as tantamount to giving away veterans land, and they fear it might set a precedent.

“No one in opposition is celebrating, we are simply waiting to see what next steps New Directions and A Community of Friends attempts,” Lawrence Van Kuran, adjutant for the American Legion’s 20th District,  said in an e-mail.

Van Kuran, whose group comprises 21 legion posts, including 5,000 members who live in the geographic area served by the Sepulveda VA, said most veterans remained distrustful of the developers’ true intentions.

“It is more than obvious to even the casual observer that the developers want a foothold on the property, with an eye to acquiring the full 160 acres in the long run,” Van Kuran wrote. “The project proposed at present is simply the first step, the proverbial pebble in the pond with ever-expanding rings.”

“These developers want the land so bad they can taste it, and they are not likely to fold their tents and steal silently off in the night,” Peggy Burgess, a member of the Land Use Committee for the North Hills West Neighborhood Council, said in an e-mail. “Make no mistake, they are up to something, and it bodes no good for the veterans.”

But supporters of the housing project insist that the aim is to assist homeless and disabled veterans by providing permanent housing, treatment and skills training.

“What’s driving us is the need,” said Reinis, stressing that the decision to build more housing for military personnel came from the Veterans Administration, and was not the developers’ brainchild. “We know the need is there, and we’re just to try to address that.”

-- Ann Simmons