For the second time in the past six months, a major Hollywood studio is seeking to expand by locating facilities in a residential neighborhood – and the people who live there are saying no.

Residents south of Melrose Avenue near Van Ness Avenue filed suit against the city of Los Angeles, the City Council and Raleigh Studios to prevent the construction of a large parking structure on Raleigh Street, where the studio offices are located. Raleigh has proposed building a three-story office building on Melrose adjacent to its existing offices, and erecting a multilevel garage behind it, which would front on Raleigh Street.

Two duplexes that date back to the 1920s would be demolished to make room for the parking structure, which would stand at five levels, with 45-foot concrete-block walls, housing some 250 cars. While the office building complies with local zoning, the garage intrudes into a residential zone. But a variance to allow construction has already been approved by the city zoning administrator, the Board of Zoning Appeals, the City Council and the Mayor's Office.

Local residents opposed the project in city hearings, and have now formed a group, the Friends and Neighbors of Old Hollywood, which filed the lawsuit. Michael Weidman, who is spearheading the neighborhood group, owns a home directly across from the site where the parking structure would stand. He says, “It's essential that the integrity and livability of Hollywood's historic neighborhoods be protected and harmonized with the growth of the movie industry . . . or we will quickly be left with nothing of historic or cultural significance.”

In fact, just a few blocks down Melrose, Paramount Studios had proposed another multilevel parking structure earlier this year in a residentially zoned area of the Larchmont neighborhood, but then backed down in the face of neighborhood protests. Residents of both Larchmont Village and Raleigh Street believe Paramount is waiting to see what happens with the Raleigh parking project before proposing a new structure; Paramount declined to comment on that suggestion. Bruce Walker, president of the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association, who helped lead the neighborhood opposition against Paramount's parking project, hasn't taken any position on the similar project proposed on Raleigh Street. “It's a very touchy situation,” he says.

The lawsuit filed by the Friends and Neighbors of Old Hollywood maintains that the zoning variance was granted without preparation of a required environmental study, but city staff say none was necessary. Renee Weitzer, chief planning deputy for Councilman John Ferraro's office, pledged support for the project, as did the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The chamber detailed its position in documents filed with the Board of Zoning Appeals: “As an old community there is not the opportunity to separate residential and commercial areas; the key to developing Hollywood is to strike a balance. We must be able to accommodate growth or there will be a loss of industry.”

LA Weekly