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Arboring Bitterness : Owner Loses Bid to Remove Trees in Front of Store

February 04, 1988|STEPHANIE O'NEILL | Times Staff Writer

More than 370 trees line Brand Boulevard in Glendale's downtown business district, and only seven of them stand in front of Julian Ganz' furniture store.

But Ganz, owner and president of McMahan's of Glendale, finds that four too many.

For three years he's been pressing the city to let him remove four ficus trees growing out of ornamental bus-stop planters in front of his store. That would leave only three carrotwood trees, which now stand in a separate row behind the ficuses.

Ganz contends the leafy canopy from all seven trees blocks visibility to his South Brand Boulevard storefront and would render useless the modest signs allowed by the city's strict sign ordinance.

After more than a year of court appearances, Ganz got to take his case before the Glendale City Council in a court-ordered hearing last Thursday night.

But in a community where officials pride themselves on the number of city-owned trees and regularly boast of the city's arbor awards, the result was hardly a surprise.

Council members voted 4 to 0 to deny his request. Councilman Jerold F. Milner was absent from the meeting.

"It would be a disaster if trees were removed from any portion of Brand Boulevard . . . other than from a natural cause," Mayor Ginger Bremberg said.

It is against Glendale's policy to remove trees that are not diseased, damaged or hazardous. City officials fear that allowing Ganz to remove the trees could set a dangerous precedent, Bremberg said.

About two years ago, she said, other merchants complained to the council that the trees along Brand Boulevard, planted by the city during redevelopment of the street in 1977, were blocking their signs.

"But now that the trees have grown and are being trimmed three times a year we haven't had any complaints," Bremberg said.

Ganz' attorney, Douglas B. Kays, argued, however, that it is unfair that McMahan's must contend with a double row of trees, while most of Brand Boulevard is lined with a single row.

"They create a virtual wall," Kays told the council Thursday.

The extra trees were planted by the city to shade a bus waiting area situated within a few feet of the store.

Kays said after the two-hour hearing he may file a lawsuit in an effort to force the city to grant Ganz' request.

"We are not against appropriate landscaping," the attorney told council members. "And we support the sign ordinance . . . but there is no way a sign can be placed over the entrance of our store that can be seen from the street."

Ganz, who was ordered by the court more than a year ago to remove a protruding rooftop sign that violated the city's strict sign ordinance, told the council that since then, few motorists notice the temporary paper signs posted in the store's windows.

"Would-be customers drive up and down the street looking for us," Ganz said during Thursday's hearing. "Others call to see if we're still in Glendale."

As a result, Ganz said, 1987 profits recorded at the 49-year-old store dropped about 4.3% below those recorded in 1980. By contrast, he said, profits in other McMahan stores have soared.

Kays said Ganz would pay for one of two proposals he believes would preserve the trees and eliminate the problem.

The first, Kays said, would be to transplant the four ficus trees to any area of the city and to replace them with low-growth shrubs. The second, he said, would be to remove and transplant all the trees, including the three carrotwoods, and replace them with another species. As the new trees grow, he said, they could be transplanted and replaced again.

Council members rejected both suggestions.

Seven people, including two Glendale park commissioners, told the council they object to removing of the trees.

"Brand Boulevard has been greatly enhanced by the beautiful trees in planters," Glendale resident Mary Ann Prelock said. "McMahan's does heavy newspaper advertising . . . I don't think" the use of signs "makes any particular difference."

Resident Constance Hill agreed: "If I'm driving down Brand Boulevard, I'm going to be watching traffic, not watching signs."

Ganz's battle over the trees dates back to 1985, when Glendale officials ordered McMahan's to remove the protruding roof sign. Ganz finally removed the sign under a court order in April, 1986, that resulted from the city's filing a criminal complaint against the store.

As part of that ruling, Glendale Superior Judge Joseph R. Kalin ordered the city to hear Ganz' request to remove the ficus trees.

Before Thursday's vote, Councilman John F. Day said Ganz--and not the thick canopy of trees--is to blame for the store's loss in profits since he did not replace the sign with another permitted by the city.

"I find that difficult to understand," Day said. "If there is a hardship, I believe that hardship is of McMahan's own making."

Posters Temporary Move

Kays, however, said the store owners have used the window posters only because they were waiting for a hearing by the city before spending money on another sign. Kays said he did not expect the city to take so long before granting the hearing.

Council members, viewing large photographs of the store front provided by Ganz, said they believe signs in store windows and elsewhere would be visible despite the thick growth of trees.

But after the meeting, a visibly frustrated Ganz disagreed.

"I defy them to drive up and down Brand Boulevard and show us where we can put a sign," he said. "I think they made up their minds before they got here . . . but we're not going to quit."

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