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Apartment Plan Falters : Developer Considers Options in Wake of Protests

August 04, 1988|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

A developer who wants to build a controversial 14-unit apartment complex in a quiet hillside neighborhood near the Glendale Freeway may change his plans--or abandon them altogether--in the wake of protests from residents, a consultant said this week.

Marlene Roth, who represents Glendale developer Val Levin, said they are keeping open several options--including abandonment of the project--regarding a steep, one-acre undeveloped site on Highline Road, a short, narrow street in a hilly neighborhood of southeast Glendale near the Los Angeles city line.

The developer has until noon today to appeal a decision by the Glendale Environmental and Planning Board, which ruled last Thursday that an environmental impact study is necessary for the proposed apartment development.

The study, vigorously sought by neighbors, could be costly and could take more than nine months to complete, Roth said.

"We're still evaluating our options," Roth said. "We might be able to get some of the issues narrowed a bit," she added, "but the board was so adamant in their decision, I can't see them changing their minds."

The board ignored a request by Roth to postpone action on the proposal. Instead, board members voted 3 to 0 to require the study after residents argued that the substandard, 24-foot-wide road on which they live is unsuitable for the density of the project proposed, even though the proposal falls within the city's zoning requirements.

Residents said they may now ask the city to rezone the entire area, which would be the first such proposal since the city adopted a zoning consistency plan two years ago.

"Our neighborhood is too fragile to absorb a 200% increase" in population and traffic, resident Jerome Bizaillion told the planning board last week.

The lot originally was zoned for high-density, multifamily development, which would have permitted construction of up to 58 units. New zoning laws now allow construction of 23 units on the steep, tree-shaded lot, but residents contend that even that number is unworkable. Fewer than eight homes would be permitted under single-family zoning, according to a city planner.

Levin proposes to build 14 apartment units. Plans call for the large, two-story units to be built over double garages in a configuration resembling townhouses.

City officials said the plans could require some blasting of the granite bedrock and removal of about 600 truckloads of dirt to create building pads, driveways and parking areas. The structure would tower more than 50 feet above the back yards of residents on the east side of Highline Road.

In addition, massive retaining walls would be required to shore up the hillside, which residents said would be visible from throughout Glendale and create "an ugly billboard effect," Bizaillion said.

David Bobardt, a city planner who recommended that detailed environmental studies be conducted, said the proposed development would be "far out of character with the rest of the neighborhood."

Roth said Levin, who has an option to buy the property pending city approval of the project, "wanted to do the least controversial project he could." However, she said, since the city is requiring the environmental study, which could cost $30,000 or more, the developer now is considering redesigning the project. "As long as we have to do this, we might as well do everything," Roth said.

She said options include building an apartment complex with a subterranean common parking garage rather than individual double garages topped by two-story attached units, as proposed. A more compact development would require less grading and fewer retaining walls and provide more open space between the development and neighboring homes, Roth said.

Residents began voicing their opposition to development as soon as a "For Sale" sign was placed on the property last year. A petition signed by 64 residents opposed to multi-unit development was sent in December to City Council members, and since then neighbors have bombarded city officials with letters.

The project does not entail a zone change or variance and usually would not be heard by the Planning Commission or City Council, said John McKenna, planning director. Project approval may be granted by the city engineer, planning department and design review board.

Right of Appeal

However, both the developer and residents have the right to appeal the city's decision to the council, which has the power to approve or deny the project, McKenna said.

The City Council in 1985 lowered the density permitted in another hillside neighborhood--along Alpha Road in the Verdugo Woodlands area. Residents there had complained that a 104-unit apartment complex proposed for a three-acre site would cause overcrowding on narrow, winding streets. The change in zoning in that case, from moderate-density development to single-family homes, required a unanimous vote of the five-member council.

Developer Marc Kogan, who had proposed the project at 1905-07 Alpha Road, filed suit against the city for $9.1 million. The case is still pending in court.

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