CITY HALL — The owner of a haunted-looking half-built apartment complex, which has been sitting vacant since the 1990s, was denied a request for special exemptions just in time for Halloween.

Planning commissioners voted unanimously not to allow Naren Desai, who bought the 3004 Broadway property in 1990, to provide fewer spaces than required under the zoning code. Desai was also asking that he be allowed to build a project with smaller set-backs. This, too, was denied.

These concessions were granted to Desai in 1996 when City Council was offering breaks to property owners who planned to reconstruct buildings damaged by the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Desai got money from City Hall and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) but then, after demolishing the existing four bungalows and starting construction on a four-unit apartment building, he got in a dispute with the contractors. Construction stopped. Lawsuits began. No one won, according to Desai – only the lawyers.

In the meantime, the Code Compliance Department opened 19 cases against the property, which was sitting untouched and irking neighbors, but Desai always complied – making the necessary fixes – so the building remains.

A structural engineer said that, even after more than a decade of exposure to the elements, 95 percent of the structure is still sound.

A report, paid for by Desai, shows that it would cost him about $1 million to continue construction as is and about $1.3 million tear it all down and follow the current zoning code.

Desai said, under questioning from the Planning Commission, that he would likely have to demolish the building if he didn’t get approval to move forward with the exemptions.

Neighbors of the buildings expressed lots of anger and some ambivalence about the situation.

“Today I had a bunch of mixed emotions coming here,” said Mark Figueroa, who lives next door. “Would I like to see it built? Yes, I would like to see it built. Do I want this guy to suffer? Not really. But I would like to see it built to code. Do not give this guy concessions because he jerked everyone around for 20 years.”

His daughter, he said, grew up staring out her bedroom window at the eyesore.

Commissioners asked city attorneys about their ability to require the building to be demolished. Attorneys noted that it was not under the purview of the commission that night.

Desai will have 14 days to appeal the decision, which would be heard by City Council.

dave@www.smdp.com

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