Much to the Glendale City Council's delight, two resident groups stepped forward this week to request zoning changes that would forbid apartment construction in their neighborhoods.
The three council members at Tuesday's meeting praised the groups for their vision. They said they would gladly waive city zoning change fees and called for other groups to follow the groups' example.
"I know I speak for Councilman (Larry) Zarian and Councilman (Carl) Raggio when I congratulate you for your effort," Mayor Jerold Milner told a neighborhood representative. "We'd like to encourage other neighborhoods to do what you are doing . . . and we will be happy to save you the fees."
Nine of 16 homeowners in the 200 blocks of Irving and Thompson avenues, zoned for horses and small apartments, and 26 of 57 homeowners in a medium-density apartment zone in the 1000 blocks of Grover and Davis avenues requested the zoning reductions.
"It's a dream come true," said Kathy Crunelle, who lives on Grover and signed the petition. "We were running out of space for our kids."
There are mostly single-family residences in both neighborhoods, with a small number of duplexes and apartments scattered among the houses.
The council voted 3 to 0 to schedule the public hearings required for the zoning changes. Both cases are to be heard by the Planning Commission on Wednesday and the City Council on Aug. 25. The council also voted to freeze apartment building construction in the two neighborhoods until the outcome of the proceedings.
"Through voluntary downzoning, we can reduce the city's population without Big Brother forcing anybody to do what they don't want," Zarian said.
Council members Ginger Bremberg and Dick Jutras, who were absent Tuesday, have also been supportive of voluntary zoning reductions.
John McKenna, the city's planning director, said most neighborhoods would benefit financially from downzoning.
"Both the single-family homes and the apartments would become more desirable in a single-family zone because there would be less traffic and more open space," he said.
However, McKenna acknowledged that downzoning could penalize residents of the "more modest single homes in apartment zones" because they would be denied the opportunity to sell their property to apartment developers.
Neighborhoods need the approval of at least 51% of property owners to request a zoning change, but council members said they are willing to void the requirement by proposing the changes themselves, as long as a significant group of neighbors back them.
Also, if the council prompts a change, residents would be exempt from paying zoning change fees of $750 plus $50 per lot.
There are no provisions in the Glendale zoning code that would allow residents to block a zoning change. But if at least 20% of affected owners oppose a change, a unanimous council vote is required for implementation. With less than 20% opposition, a 4-1 vote would be sufficient to stop a change.
If approved, the zoning changes would reduce by about 230 the number of building units allowed in the two neighborhoods, thus contributing to the council's often-stated goal of limiting construction in the city to prevent a population explosion.
For the last three years, council members have tried unsuccessfully to impose zoning restrictions that would limit Glendale's population to near the 200,000 cap recommended in the city's General Plan. The present population is estimated at 165,000.
In 1986, the council adopted a zoning package that limited the number of apartment units per lot, but developers began building four- and five-bedroom apartments and the population continued to grow faster than before.
In September, the council publicly recognized its failure, adopted an apartment building moratorium and set about reforming the zoning code all over again.
In February, the planning staff introduced an ordinance that would limit the size of units per lot. But upon closer examination, council members discovered that developers could still build multiple-bedroom apartments--albeit smaller ones--thus making the ordinance useless as a growth-control device.
The council shelved that ordinance, extended the moratorium and once again instructed staff to begin--for the third time in less than three years--the lengthy public hearing process involved in changing the city's zoning code.
Council members now hope that by next year the proper tools will be in place to prevent a new population explosion. But they can't agree on what restrictions to put in place.
The planning staff began work on the new zoning ordinance last month, and Raggio proposed a temporary ordinance to reduce by half the number of apartment units allowed per lot.
But Zarian and Jutras blocked the proposal. They argued that it is too drastic and would stagnate the real estate market by raising property values beyond the range of all but a few.
All five council members agree on one thing, however: Voluntary downzoning is the ideal solution.