ALTADENA — Lake Avenue merchants reacted apprehensively but with general approval last week to a proposed ordinance that would regulate development to give the business district a Mediterranean village theme.
About 25 business owners in this unincorporated community gathered in a realty office Wednesday for the presentation of the draft ordinance by the Lake Avenue Merchants Committee of the Altadena Chamber of Commerce.
The new look envisioned by the committee would incorporate red roof tiles, pastel stucco walls, colonnades, exterior masonry stairs, fountains and plazas.
Some merchants were skeptical about the proposed requirements, but all favored trying to create some harmony among the storefronts.
Rules Called Stiff
"It's a good idea if we don't blow it out of proportion and try to make it like the south of France," said Ken Sayegh, owner of a tire business. "I've read some of these rules. They're stiff."
The proposed regulations, which must be approved by the county Regional Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, will affect Lake Avenue businesses between Pine Avenue and Woodbury Road, as well as El Molino Avenue businesses between Altadena Drive and Calaveras Street.
"Now there are absolutely no design standards in the zoning code," explained Sorin Alexanian, the supervising regional planner with the county Department of Regional Planning who helped write the ordinance. "We are trying to establish a theme."
Current plans call for the merchants in the 60-acre area to pay for all improvements. Discussion has started on the possibility of creating an assessment district to pay for promotional activities and to design street decorations. Each business would pay $25 annually, plus a fee based on the number of its employees.
The proposed regulations would apply only to new construction or when existing structures are remodeled at a cost of more than 25% of a building's value.
Stucco or Brick
The primary materials for exterior walls would have to be stucco or brick, and at least 50% of roofs would have to be tile. At least 50% of ground floors facing the street would be entrances, or windows or displays of merchandise to encourage pedestrian shoppers. Drive-through facilities would be prohibited, and most parking would have to be in the rear.
Merchants would be encouraged to use architectural devices such as colonnades, exterior masonry stairs, fountains and plazas.
Landscaping requirements would be increased. One tree would have to be planted for every four parking spaces, and trash bins would have to be enclosed by 5-foot decorative walls.
"Right now (Lake) is a nondescript street. I want to make it look like an interesting place to shop," said committee chairman Bill Webster, owner of Webster's shopping center. "I have an investment and want to protect it."
The 30-member committee was created as one step toward implementing policies for Lake Avenue already suggested in the Altadena Community Plan.
The long-range blueprint for development adopted by the county Board of Supervisors in 1986 calls only for the creation of a "village-like" Lake Avenue that would become the commercial core of Altadena.
Webster said that last summer "it suddenly dawned on me that it was in the community plan and nobody had asked the county what to do." County officials suggested he conduct a survey of the estimated 150 business owners in the area.
"A lot wanted some way to control the appearance on the street," he said. In November the committee was formed, and by February its members were meeting twice monthly to design the ordinance.
Alexanian said competition from Pasadena businesses on South Lake Avenue was another impetus.
Stig Erlander lamented that his Nature's Department Store on Lake is bypassed because shoppers prefer the more fashionable malls in Pasadena and surrounding cities.
"They look around here and they think it's crappy," he said. "The whole concept should increase the value of our property. If we don't go with something like this the whole area's going to go down the tubes. It's going downhill now."
Greta Dockum, who owns a mail-order firm, noted that the benefit to non-retail businesses would not be as great. She was worried that she might have to install clear glass front windows according to the new regulations, even though half her space is used for storage.
"The idea is to maintain interaction" with pedestrians, committee member and architect Adolfo Miralles said.
Alexanian said merchants may apply for variances if they don't want to comply with the new standards.
When business owner Sayegh pointed out that developers might be discouraged by the stringent regulations, Miralles responded: "But you have to start somewhere.
"There are real problems, but if we don't confront them nothing will happen. We're trying to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and it's hard." He urged the merchants to help the committee iron out details of the ordinance.
"We need your input, participation," he told them. "Your business depends on what's happening in the street."