The Glendale City Council voted 4-0 Tuesday to create a panel to review the design of many proposed buildings in town.
The move came, council members said, after a sharp increase recently in the number of unsightly, slipshod structures put up by developers seeking to take advantage of low interest rates and to beat the imminent rezoning of some Glendale neighborhoods.
"We hope this will salvage what's left from the three-story, walk-up boxes," Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg said.
Starting immediately, building permits will not be issued without the design board's approval. Only building exteriors will be judged. Single-family homes and some industrial structures will be exempt. The aesthetics of condominiums and of all buildings in the downtown redevelopment zone will be reviewed by other city bodies, as they are now.
The new design board will have 10 members, divided into two groups meeting on alternate weeks. The panel, to be appointed on March 18, will include architects, engineers and contractors.
Year of Debate
The panel is a result of more than a year of debate among city planners, council members and the building industry.
The municipal planning department proposed last year that its director be given wide-ranging powers over new architecture, even down to color choices and roofing materials, as part of the citywide rezoning process.
That prompted protests from builders, who said they feared dictatorial control over free enterprise, and from some council members, who said they did not want any more bureaucracy.
A continuing boom in the construction of small apartment houses, however, produced many complaints about designs that are ugly or incompatible with their surroundings. The council decided that some controls were needed but that builders' fears should also be addressed.
As a result, the industry was promised representation in the review process. In addition, the new ordinance allows builders to submit preliminary sketches, not finished schematics, to the board and requires a review within 15 days. Rejected projects can be resubmitted within 60 days. Decisions can be appealed to the City Council.
Further demonstrating the council's caution, the ordinance creating the review board has a "sunset clause," meaning the panel will go out of business in a year unless renewed by the council.
Even with those protections, several council members said they reluctantly voted for the panel.
"But the danger of not having one is far greater than the danger of trying this for a year," Councilman Larry Zarian said.
Added Councilman John Day, who said he expected the panel to cause problems: "I would be very happy to see 1987 roll around and prove me wrong."
In an interview this week, Marlene Roth, who represented the Glendale-Burbank chapter of the Building Industry Assn. in meetings about the ordinance, said her members could live with the review process.
"While most members of the industry feel that architectural review is another imposition which can interfere with an individual's right to develop his property, we do concur that in many areas of the city, for the betterment of the community, a method of review is necessary. We feel the proposal will provide protection to the community from poorly designed structures and a procedure that won't inhibit builders. It walks a thin line," Roth said.
City Planning Director Gerald Jamriska emphasized that the panel's job will not be to dictate a particular style of architecture. He said design guidelines in the ordinance were purposefully kept vague, unlike some similar ordinances in about 50 other California cities.
Garish is out
The Glendale ordinance, in part, says: "The design review process should endeavor to eliminate the ugly, the garish, the inharmonious, the monotonous and the hazardous, should endeavor to ensure that proposed improvements will not impair the desirability of investment or occupancy nearby and should endeavor to not significantly increase costs nor jeopardize the economic viability of a project."
The ordinance was passed on an emergency basis, going into effect immediately. That means projects that cleared other plan-checks but are awaiting final building permits will have to be reviewed by the design panel, Jamriska said.
The planning director said he did not know how many projects would be affected or delayed by the review. He added: "The first couple of weeks are going to be very busy as the board catches up."