VENICE — A classic landlord-tenant battle came to a close recently when the owners and former residents of Lincoln Place reached a settlement that not only preserves a group of historic buildings from demolition but allows renters to return to their one-time home.

The agreement with the property owner, the Apartment Investment and Management Co. (AIMCO), will avail up to 83 units to former tenants who are part of the settling party and limit new construction to the replacement of 99 units that previously existed on a now-vacant lot, a far smaller-scaled project compared to a 1993 plan to build 850 units on the 33-acre site, most of which would have been market-rate condos.

While the settlement is contingent on a separate agreement between AIMCO, the city of Los Angeles and other tenant groups, residents are optimistic that their needs will prevail.

“We are confident the city will do everything they can to accommodate the interest of tenants and get the apartment back running,” John Murdock, an attorney representing the tenants, said.

Just less than a dozen tenants remain in the garden-style apartment complex that once boasted 52 buildings and 795 units that were developed in 1951 and backed by the Federal Housing Authority to support World War II veterans and their families. The complex has however been largely abandoned following a series of legal fights that began after 1993 when the property owner proposed redeveloping the site, including a lawsuit over the eviction of more than 50 households. Tenants claimed in the lawsuit that AIMCO violated conditions of the California Environmental Quality Act as well as an agreement with the city of L.A. to relocate tenants to other units or properties instead of evicting them. The Second District Court of Appeals later ruled the evictions were unlawful.

There were 147 households involved in litigation.

“We are very excited to put the community back together, to breathe some life to the area, to return much needed housing to the city of Venice and L.A. and get this behind us and chart a positive future,” Patti Shwayder, senior vice president for AIMCO, said. “We’ve been in three separate settlement negotiations over the years and I guess the third time is the charm.”

Most of the tenants voluntarily left the complex after accepting relocation packages that included thousands of dollars to help pay for moving expenses. Those who did not accept the offer were evicted. Some staged a “tent city” to protest the evictions.

The settlement includes the preservation of the exteriors of existing historically eligible buildings, a victory for preservationist Amanda Seward who nominated the property for listing on the California Register of Historic Resources.

The California State Historic Resources Commission determined the property was historic, which the property owner later appealed. AIMCO agreed to drop the appeal to the commission’s decision that the property is eligible in the California Register as a historic district.

Lincoln Place was designed by architect Ralph Vaughn in his signature “Hollywood stylized” version of modern architecture, Seward said.

“It was the largest post World War II development built under a special governmental program designed to provide financial support for working class housing after the war,” Seward said regarding the significance of the property.

AIMCO plans to submit a design plan after all legal disputes are settled. Shwayder said development of the 99 units will be contextual with the existing neighborhood.

Sheila Bernard, the president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, has lived in the complex since August 1988 and is one of 11 tenants who still remain, most of whom are seniors or disabled.

She said the tenants have been mostly “hunkered” down over the past several years and remain cautiously optimistic that a resolution will be reached with the city of Los Angeles.

“I think from the very beginning all we really wanted was a fair resolution and a chance to live there and be at peace,” she said. “Anything we did during all those years was fundamentally in that direction.

“We’re very hopeful that we will have achieved that objective with that settlement.”

melodyh@www.smdp.com

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