The Glendale City Council this week agreed to look into complaints that its newly created architectural review boards have created lengthy delays in construction of apartment buildings.
The move came after the council rejected the first challenge to decisions by the board, which was filed by Aram Kazazian, a veteran Glendale architect and a city commissioner. Kazazian sought to overturn decisions of a design review board that twice rejected his plans for two proposed apartment buildings.
The City Council on Tuesday sent Kazazian back to the review panel. Late Wednesday, Kazazian submitted revised plans for the buildings, which city officials described as "tremendously improved," and both plans were approved by the review panel.
One planning official said the approved plans and the rejected ones were as different "as night and day."
Kazazian said he filed the appeal because "somebody has to stand up and yell." He added, "Everybody is having a lot of problems, but everybody is afraid to talk" because they fear reprisals from city planners.
While the council rejected Kazazian's appeal, it granted the architect first priority before the review board. His proposals otherwise would have gone to the bottom of a list of hundreds of building projects awaiting review, which would have resulted in delays of another four to five weeks, city planners said.
Kazazian had been seeking design approval since April for the projects, an eight-unit building proposed for 1004 E. Maple St. and a 28-unit building at 615 N. Palm Drive. The board called for more variation in the exteriors and more information about proposed colors and landscaping.
The design review panels were created in March to halt what city officials described as construction of unattractive buildings. One council member complained that developers were building "ugly, three-story, walk-up boxes."
The review process has created a backlog of hundreds of building project plans awaiting approval. A third review panel was formed last month to help speed the process.
Kazazian accused planning officials of nit-picking by rejecting plans for what he said were insignificant details such as the size of trees to be planted and the color of building materials, but he made the changes.
Council members defended the planning staff and review boards, saying construction of poorly designed buildings has been halted.
After Kazazian filed the appeal to the council June 26, he submitted revised plans to the review board. But the design board could not act on the new plan while the old one was before the council. City planning officials said that, if Kazazian had not appealed, his new plans probably would have been approved weeks ago.
Several dozen other architects and builders appeared at the council meeting Tuesday, demanding that the city review the role of the design panels. James Pollard, a builder and chairman of the city Building Commission, who recommended earlier this year that the review panels be created, told the council that the plan has backfired. He said the panels "are being too hard on architects and wasting too much time."
As a result of the protests, the council agreed to meet with developers. However, four of the five council members said they still support the panels, which were formed for a one-year trial period. Councilman John F. Day has objected to the architectural review process all along.
Alexander Pyper, city building superintendent, said developers have one year from the time they submit an application for a building permit to obtain city approval of a project. If the deadline passes without approval, the project, under city law, is automatically rejected. The developer would then have to submit a new plan.
For some developers, this could mean that they would have to submit plans to meet the city's new, more restrictive zoning laws, which went into effect in April. The new laws allow fewer units to be built and require more parking spaces.
Pyper said no proposals have reached the one-year cut-off date but many are nearing it.