Boom times in the film industry are causing headaches for neighbors of one of Hollywood's most venerable studios. Residents of Larchmont Village are rallying to oppose expansion plans by Paramount Studios - specifically, an attempt to build a multilevel parking structure on residential property across the street from the film giant's complex on Melrose Avenue. Located within walking distance of the Larchmont shopping district, facing north across Melrose between Plymouth and Windsor boulevards, the site is currently occupied by a pair of two-story apartment buildings, home to some 40-odd residents, and a 175-space surface parking lot, which Paramount owns. The new five-story structure would accommodate more than 800 cars and studio trucks. A pedestrian bridge above Melrose would allow lot patrons to cross directly into Paramount Studios. Paramount originally planned a seven-story structure for nearly 1,000 vehicles, but backed off in January in the face of neighborhood reaction. The new plan has met with equal opposition; city officials say they've received more than 140 letters of protest.
The project requires a zoning variance to allow for commercial construction in a residential zone. Neighbors contend it will increase traffic and reduce property values in a neighborhood of tidy houses, green lawns and narrow streets. Says Bruce Walker, president of the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association, "This project offers zero benefit to the Larchmont community."
Officials at Paramount assure residents the proposed five-story lot would alleviate rather than create traffic problems in the area. "Paramount will do a great job with the structure," says studio land-use attorney Mark Armbruster.
Residents of the two apartment buildings that would be demolished to make way for the parking structure seem unconcerned by the neighborhood debate. Several low-income, mostly Spanish-speaking tenants are unaware of Paramount's plan to relocate them, and others are resigned. Justina Cubas, 20, who shares a small apartment with her mother, shrugs off the question while offering a visitor a glass of water: "If Paramount wants to do it, I guess it's okay."
Larchmont residents are appealing to City Councilman John Ferraro's office. Renee Weitzer, Ferraro's chief planning deputy, has not seen Paramount's update. "We were not supportive of the original proposal," says Weitzer. "We thought it was too large and too intrusive for the neighborhood. Generally speaking, we support the residents."
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Larchmont activists oppose any construction on residential property, and urge Paramount to expand north of Melrose instead, where Paramount already owns four other parking lots, two of which are leased to neighboring studios, Raleigh and KCAL-9. Neighbors question Paramount's motivation in looking south when there is commercial zoning elsewhere. "They can go north, east and west without going into residential neighborhoods," says one resident. "I think they are trying to get our property values lowered so they can take over the whole neighborhood. "Armbruster responds, "Paramount has a huge need for the lot to service the business they have at the studios. There is nothing to suggest they need to do anything farther to the south."