Mayor Larry Zarian said Tuesday that he dropped plans to build a 12-unit senior citizen housing complex on land he owns because city staff members wanted to apply design rules that were too restrictive.
Despite the demand for affordable senior housing in Glendale, Zarian said he now intends to turn the site at 228 S. Cedar St. into a parking lot.
"We can't have senior housing and make conditions so tough that it makes it unprofitable and undoable," he said.
City staff members said Zarian, who recently voted for a sweeping growth program targeting apartment projects, wanted to build under outdated, less restrictive guidelines.
Zarian said he bought the land and a set of plans for the 12-unit project about five months ago from Luis Albert. He said Albert had previously obtained most of the required city approvals for the project. The mayor said he planned to build to Albert's original design and rent the units at below-market rates of $400 to $600 per month.
Glendale Zoning Administrator Kathleen Marcus said Albert obtained approvals in 1986 but that they expired because he did not build within two years.
Since 1986, the City Council has adopted a new design ordinance for apartment complexes and has changed the zoning to permit fewer units on most lots. In addition, the city staff has prepared new guidelines for developers who want a density bonus, which would allow them to construct more apartments in projects involving senior housing.
"Those things were not in place in 1986 when this was first OKd," Marcus said.
Citing one example of the change, she said the current senior housing policy requires at least one parking space per apartment. She said Zarian proposed one space for every two apartments.
In a Nov. 28 hearing before Marcus, Zarian asked for variances that would exempt his project from current requirements for parking, unit size, setbacks, private patios and a common recreation area.
Beyond these requests, the zoning administrator expressed concern because the project had no elevator to help elderly residents get to the second floor and had no on-site manager.
Marcus said she delayed a decision at the hearing, then reviewed her concerns with Zarian at a Dec. 4 conference.
"His response was that certain changes that were discussed would not make the project feasible, and therefore he would not build," she said.
Zarian, who launched his reelection bid last week, said he did not drop the housing project because he feared it could become a campaign issue. "Politics had nothing to do with it," he said. "I was before the zoning administrator as a citizen, not as a mayor."