Despite neighbor’s complaints, Chabad expansion approved by L.A. City Council

Chabad of North Hollywood, an Orthodox congregation in Sherman Oaks whose expansion project set off a four-year dispute with a group of neighbors unhappy about the proposed new building’s size, returned to the Los Angeles City Council on June 27 for a second time to seek approval for the plans for their now partially built 12,000-square-foot new home.

The council’s unanimous vote appeared to mark the end of the protracted battle between neighbors supporting Chabad’s proposed expansion of its home on West Chandler Boulevard and those who objected to the building, first approved by the City Council in June 2009, saying it was too large for its lot.

The objectors sued the city and eventually prevailed in a California Court of Appeals, which ordered the council in August 2011 to set aside its initial approval. The council then sent the matter back to the Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM), which held a well-attended, hour-long hearing on June 26.

At that hearing, neighbors opposing the project argued that the building would change the character of their neighborhood. Chabad supporters, who significantly outnumbered the opponents at PLUM, urged the two members of the committee present to allow Chabad to continue its expansion, saying their 31-year-old community had outgrown its previous building, that the new building would be an improvement to the neighborhood and that because they are Orthodox Jews who do not drive to synagogue, the project — which could accommodate up to 200 worshipers but would include only five on-site parking spaces — would not have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

After hearing from about a dozen people on both sides and a representative from Councilman Paul Koretz’s office, in whose district Chabad is located, PLUM sent the matter to the full City Council for a vote the following day, with a recommendation that Chabad’s request be approved.

At the June 28 City Council meeting, Koretz arranged for the matter to receive a second public hearing before the full council. After hearing many of the same arguments made one day earlier at PLUM, Koretz urged his colleagues to vote in Chabad’s favor, in part because the building is mostly already built.

After the votes were tallied, the few dozen Chabad supporters remaining in the council chamber applauded.

“If neighbors have any specific issues, other than that the project continue, they’re welcome to call us,” said Rabbi Aaron Abend, Chabad’s spiritual leader, just after the vote was taken. “We’re good neighbors.”

According to Abend, the building is about half-finished and should take another year to complete. The walls on the triangular patch of land already rise up to their full 28-foot height.

Jeff Gantman, one of two neighbors who led the opposition to the Chabad expansion, has consistently maintained that neither he nor the members of the group he leads is motivated by anti-Semitic or anti-Orthodox sentiments, nor are they opposed to Chabad’s presence in their neighborhood.

Most of the neighbors in his group, Gantman said, are themselves Jewish, and their primary objection has been to the way in which the 12,000-square-foot project was first approved by City Council. That approval, brought about in 2009 by then-Councilman Jack Weiss, overruled a decision made by an employee of the Department of City Planning in November 2008, who had approved a smaller, 10,300-square-foot project.

After the council vote, Gantman appeared resigned to the Chabad building, but maintained that the approval of the project had not been transparent, and said his group would be requesting a “thorough review” of the process.

“It’s really a question of the city, and the process, and has this been done correctly,” Gantman said. “That’s our issue. It’s boring, but that’s the issue.”