Residents Fight Palisades Highlands Project

By Sue Pascoe

Ahearing, with L.A. City Planner Courtney Shum, will be heard today regarding the proposed 82-unit senior assisted living building at the corner of Palisades Drive and Vereda de la Montura.

The facility is proposed for a 43,033- sq.-ft. vacant lot that is zoned commercial and sits above Cosa Nostra restaurant and a small business complex. The lot was created by the original developer of the Highlands in the early 1970s and has remained open space treasured by residents across the two streets.

Thus, there is the predictable confrontation between residents in the Highlands and the property owner/developer Moshe Shram and his son, Rony.

Members of Highlanders United for Good (HUG) say the project will negatively impact the Highlands because of: 1.) its size; 2.) it eviscerates views of park-protected wilderness areas and lacks appropriate setbacks and greenscaping; 3.) increases visitor, commercial, staff and ambulance traffic especially on weekends when streets are congested streets by the influx of hikers; and 4.) the plan disregards the city’s designation as extreme fire hazard and hillside zones, exposing senior residents to danger in the case of fire and earthquake. Yet others complain that the property owner Rony Shram has not reached out to neighbors about his plans. A statement from the HUG website said, “The developer is pushing for immediate approval based on, what HUG believes, are misleading and false claims without meaningful community engagement after concealing their plans from our community for many months.”

Site of proposed development in the Highlands.
Photo: Bart Bartholomew

The News met with Shram on Sept. 24, who shared the history of the project. He bought the property zoned C1-H1 (commercial and height) in December 2013. Initially, he took plans to the Highlands President Council for residential condo units above a commercial space, but Shram said there was no support for that project. According to the Brentwood resident, he looked for alternatives. He spoke to residents and city officials and “Everything came back that more senior housing was needed.” Senior housing is allowed in a commercial zone. The Columbia University political science major then started researching senior housing and touring different facilities around the country.

He explained to the News there are four classes of senior housing: 1.) skilled nursing, which is a term for a nursing home; 2.) memory care, people are generally in good physical shape, although they have issues remembering; 3.) assisted living, which means that physically and mentally they are generally okay, but just need some help; and 4.) senior independent living, those that still drive and have their own kitchens.

The facility Shram is proposing would have 82 units, of those 59 would be for seniors (62+) who need assisted living and 23 for memory care.

There are 20 studios, about 430 sq. ft; 36 one-bedroom apartments, about 550-700 sq.ft.; and three two-bedroom apartments, about 900 sq. ft. The plan would be to make the facilities available to Highland residents first.

There will be 68-underground parking spaces (that number is higher than is required by the city). Shram expects to have a 15-member staff at every shift. Those living in the facility would not have cars.

In the facility there would be a theater, a café, a wellness center, a space for a hair salon and a little convenience store.

The proposed four-story building (two below grade as measured from Vereda de la Montura), legally could be built to 45 ft., but Shrams says the plan is for 35 ft. high.

The building will be Type-I construction, which is noncombustible. The building footprint at its largest point is 19,105 square feet (on a 43,097-sq.-ft. lot). The L-shaped building would be placed along Palisades Drive and Vereda de la Montura and there is landscaping planned for the rest of the lot.

Rendering of the proposed assisted living facility. The entrance will be off Vereda de la Montura.

Another complaint from residents is the proposed dirt hauling because the site Shram plans to build on is fill.

According to submitted documents, haul trucks would run five hours a day, six trucks an hour with a total of 30 trucks per day for 46 days. By contrast, the Caruso Village project had nine trucks per hour, with a maximum capacity of 100 truckloads a day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week, for three months.

What about the complaints Shram hasn’t taken the project to the community?

On June 26, he appeared before the Board of Directors of the Palisades Highlands Presidents Council. From the minutes of the meeting obtained by the News, the following HOA presidents were absent: Alta Mira II, Michael Lane Villas, Palisades HOA 2 and Seascape.

At that meeting Shram presented the project, took questions from the HOA presidents and then told the News, “I left a stack of business cards on the table and told everyone that if they wanted me to come present to an HOA, to contact me.”

He said, “No one asked me to speak, and I never heard from the Michael Lane president (the HOA closest to the project).”

The News sent an email to Board of Directors President David Dwyer about the meeting. He replied in a Sept. 24 email, “We had a discussion to accept the plan as submitted per the Property owners by right to develop the property within the land use regulations and zoning laws.”

When the city hearing was set, applicants are required to send out a letter to everyone within a 500-ft. radius of the project. Shram in that Sept. 5 letter wrote, “I want to establish a communication channel with you as construction moves forward . . . Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me by phone or email.”

No one has contacted him, but he heard from a friend who lives in the Highlands that Nextdoor has been filled with accusations.

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