In the News

Council backs 6,600-square-foot hillside home - October 30, 2008
Project falls below the thresholds allowed in the zoning code, city planners say.
By Jason Wells

CITY HALL — A proposed 6,648-square-foot hillside home near Brand Park that has been under review for more than a year won over four skeptics Tuesday on the City Council, despite assertions from two influential homeowners associations that the two-story house would be too large.

Nearly all the City Council members, having gone through several contentious design review appeals before, acknowledged that their initial reaction was to oppose the project, but after closer evaluation, they were eventually won over.

"I've been trying real hard to find a reason to deny this. I can't," Councilman Bob Yousefian said.

Some neighbors sought to block construction of the contemporary Ranch-style home planned for the steep slope of 1749 Allen Ave., arguing that at more than double the size of the current house, it would scar the hillside and encroach on their views.

Ralph Lee, the lead appellant in the case, told the council Tuesday that the proposed house was too big, even if it did sit on a much larger lot compared with the rest of the neighborhood.

"It's an SUV designed for a compact car," he said.

The City Council voted 4 to 1 to approve the project, siding with four city planning review decisions since October 2007 to move the project forward.

Councilman Frank Quintero voted against the project, saying he couldn't get past "this kind of square footage."

Lee filed papers against the project in June after Design Review Board No. 2 again voted to approve its redesign. The now-defunct Alternatives Assessment Panel which included members of both Design Review Boards heard Lee's appeal and voted 4 to 1 in August to approve the project with some modifications.

Unsatisfied with the decision, Lee appealed to the City Council. He was backed on Tuesday by a small group of neighbors and representatives from the Northwest Glendale Homeowners Assn., which includes the Allen Avenue home's area, and the Chevy Chase Estates Homeowners Assn., another politically influential group that has a history of fighting home expansions.

"No matter how the applicant tweaks or spins it, this is a massive home," said Dick Murray, president of the Chevy Chase Estates association.

While the planned home is nearly 4,000 square feet larger than the current one-story house on the site, the lot is 58,850 square feet which is more than double the average lot size in the immediate neighborhood, according to the Planning Department.

So for the lot size, the planned home is proportionate and even falls below the maximum thresholds allowed in the zoning code, city planners said.

Over the course of design review, architects also modified the four-car garage and other elements to appease the city and neighbors, project applicants said.

"We have kept up everything we were supposed to," said Anna Galfaian, co-owner of the property.

In approving the project, the majority on the City Council also dismissed claims that the new two-story house would wreck neighborhood views.

Even if passersby could see the two-story house from the steep angle below, "there's nothing that says a house has to be invisible from its neighbors," Councilman Dave Weaver said.

Nearly two dozen supporters who spoke in favor of the project also took issue with any one resident's ability to hamstring a project that clearly had passed "all the hoops" of design review and complied with the zoning code.

Some also criticized the homeowners associations for opposing the project.

"The Northwest Glendale Homeowners Assn. does not represent us . . . and we have never been invited to join it," Gagik Khoudian, a supporter who lives across the street from the Allen Avenue project, told the council.

An attorney representing Galfaian and property co-owner Eddie Galstian also argued against the undue influence of what he called "a few irate neighbors that have formed a makeshift organization."

Peter Fuad, the association's president, said the group's participation at the Design Review Board and City Council was one of advocacy at the request of one of its members, and not of majority member opposition.

Still, Councilman Ara Najarian said he was glad Lee pushed the project up the appeals system so the City Council could further clarify the intent behind last year's design review overhaul.

"What this shows, folks, is that good design prevails," he said.

Glendale City Counsel Meeting Roundup - March 20, 2008

The City Council approved a report from the city attorney that finalized the denial of a conditional use permit that would have allowed a proposed residential project at 1650 Hazbeth Lane to move forward.

The vote reverses the city zoning administrator's earlier decision to grant the permit and is based on a March 4 public hearing where dozens of residents spoke in opposition to the proposal on the basis that it would negatively impact the hillside and be incompatible with the neighborhood.

Councilman Frank Quintero recused himself over a conflict of interest because he lives within 500 feet of the parcel.

WHAT IT MEANS

The vote makes the March 4 vote official, but does not prevent the applicant from developing another proposal for the lot.

Glendale City Counsel Meeting Preview - March 17, 2008

The City Council on Tuesday is slated to vote on a set of findings prepared by the city attorney to deny a conditional-use permit that would have allowed a proposed residential project at 1650 Hazbeth Lane to move forward.

If approved, the findings would reverse the city zoning administrator's earlier decision to grant the permit.

The findings report is based on a March 4 public hearing at the City Council, which voted 4-0 to reject the permit request based on the determination that the project's impact on the hillside would be incompatible with the neighborhood.

WHAT TO EXPECT

The council will likely approve the findings, which would make their March 4 determination final.

Council's vote blocks home plan - March 5, 2008
Proposed hilltop home development put on hold after council reverses needed site permit.
By Jason Wells

CITY HALL — Neighbors of a proposed hilltop home above Brand Boulevard at least temporarily blocked its development Tuesday after the City Council voted 4-0 to reverse the issuance of a needed site permit.

In doing so, the council agreed that a proposed two-story home atop a undeveloped knoll between Glenmont Drive and Hazbeth Lane did not comply with Hillside Design Guidelines and that the environmental impact — particularly the movement of at least 12,220 cubic yards of earth — would be too great.

While the council's decision effectively reversed the city zoning administrator's July approval of the conditional use permit for the proposed project at 1650 Hazbeth Lane — which has become one of the most contentious hillside development proposals in years — it came with a warning to residents to strike a compromise with property owner Adel Luzuriaga.

To facilitate an agreement, the council tucked a caveat into their reversal that would essentially prevent access from Hazbeth Lane if the home is built on the hilltop, meaning Glenmont Drive residents and Luzuriaga will need to look at an easement to her property.

The proposed 1,100-foot driveway that wrapped around the hill off Hazbeth up to the site was roundly denounced as too intrusive, which turned attention to an alternate, more direct access route off Glenmont Drive that would require the consent of seven property owners.

"You need to get real on this," Councilman John Drayman told residents in the packed City Council chambers, mostly neighborhood opponents to the project. "You gotta let her get there."

Council members agreed that the long driveway up the side of the hill was in no way compatible with the neighborhood and was "in complete opposition of everything we've been trying to do with our hillside ordinance," Mayor Ara Najarian said.

To emphasize their distaste, the council instructed the City Attorney's Office to include a finding in the final denial of the permit — which is needed for projects where grading exceeds 1,500 cubic yards and the average slope is more than 50% — that the road is unacceptable under any circumstances.

"I think we can at least get our intentions clear . . . that the Hazbeth extension just isn't going to work," Najarian said.

While that may seem to nullify Luzuriaga's only private access to a public street, it could also assist her in any potential legal case if she and her Glenmont Drive neighbors are unable to compromise on securing a more direct route via an easement to the 6.6-acre property, Najarian said.

"I didn't want to shut the door on her," he said.

But it may be hard for Luzuriaga to prove in court that she has no other recourse but to invoke Glenmont access, said Peter Wright, an attorney representing the neighbors who oppose the project.

Trying to force Glenmont property owners to provide access to the parcel would essentially constitute easement by necessity, a legal finding that is typically hard to justify in court, especially if Luzuriaga technically still has access to Hazbeth Lane, Wright said. .

"I don't see that there's a case there," he said.

On Wednesday, Luzuriaga had begun contacting Glenmont Drive residents to set up a discussion on securing the easement, but expectations were low on both sides.

"It would not be just me, but all seven [property owners] would have to grant an easement," said Tony Czarnecki, who lives on the 1500 block of Glenmont Drive.

While the driveway and easement issue were major sticking points at the City Council meeting, other hurdles remain for Luzuriaga and her design team. The displacement of 19 vertical feet of earth from the hill's dome did not sit well with several on the council, nor did the placement of the house.

And Councilman Bob Yousefian accused Luzuriaga — a prominent Realtor and community volunteer — of trying to use the long driveway to prep the parcel for future development.

"I'm no fool," he said. "It won't be just one house."

But Luzuriaga said she has no plans to build more than what was proposed on Tuesday, and that she was surprised that a project that fell well within zoning codes for height, floor area and landscaping requirements received such a poor reception on the dais.

"I'm sad about it," she said. "I felt so sure I was in full code."

Luzuriaga's design team will explore options brought up during the council meeting to see what is feasible, such as Councilman Dave Weaver's suggestion to cut and fill a lull at the back of the hilltop to push the house pad back, she said.

In the meantime, opponents of the project said they would use the temporary reprieve to consider their options as well.

"I feel badly for her disappointment, but at the same time, I'm glad that we're not going to have a 1,100-foot road, and particularly glad that they're not going to chop down the hill in front of us," Czarnecki said.

Councilman Frank Quintero had to recuse himself from the hearing due to a conflict of interest since his home was within 500 feet of proposed project.

Hillside house is up to council - March 3, 2008
Neighbors have loudly protested Hazbeth Lane project because of its impact on the environment.
By Jason Wells

CITY HALL — A hillside protectionist movement that has swept through City Hall since the 2007 election will take center stage Tuesday when the City Council considers an appeal to one of the most contentious residential hilltop development proposals in years.

The proposed two-story, 5,114-square-foot home at 1650 Hazbeth Lane would displace 19 vertical feet of earth atop a prominent hill at the foot of North Brand Boulevard at a time when homeowner sentiment to protect open space and views along the hillsides is at an arguably all-time high.

Over the past few months, the protectionist sentiment has driven the City Council to overhaul the design review process for all single-family homes as a way to facilitate more neighborhood compatibility among new projects, and has pushed ahead a comprehensive set of restrictive hillside development codes.

"A year ago, it may have not been quite the eyebrow-raiser that it has become," Councilman John Drayman said. "In recent years, certain segments of the public view those hillsides as being part of a protected public amenity."

In that sense, property owner Adel Luzuriaga said the timing for taking her hilltop plan before the City Council could be better. But Luzuriaga said she will be prepared.

The proposed project is well within all code requirements, with the floor area covering just 2% of the 6.8-acre site — far below the allowed 30%. It would also provide 50% more landscaped area than required and is 5 feet shorter than the maximum allowable height, according to city reports.

Luzuriaga, a Realtor, also reduced the amount of grading needed for the driveway by nearly 2,200 cubic feet, and on Friday said she would introduce another design compromise at the council meeting.

"I'm willing to compromise, I want to compromise. I'm going to be waving to them, and I want them to wave to me," she said. "I just want one house on a piece of land I've owned all this time."

But opposition to the project — which needs a conditional-use permit because the amount of grading exceeds 1,500 cubic yards and the average current slope is more than 50% — has coalesced since applications for permits were first filed February 2007.

A group of residents has consistently tried to block the issuance of the conditional-use permit that would allow the project to move forward, but twice they have failed.

The city's zoning administrator in July approved the permit, and an appeal to the now-defunct Board of Zoning Appeals in October produced a stalemate among its members, prompting 45 residents a week later to support an appeal to the City Council.

Neighbors have long held that the proposed project is incompatible with surrounding properties, intrudes upon their views and destroys part of the ridgeline.

"We're not saying you can't build, we're just saying be more respectful of your neighbors and the environment," said Delma Kirch, one of the lead appellants in the case.

The 18-foot-wide private drive that would extend more than 1,000 feet as it wraps around the hill up to the house is also a major sticking point with neighbors, Kirch said.

"We feel that the road is just outrageous," she said.

Luzuriaga several months ago set up a website that provides viewers with detailed renderings, site maps and project descriptions.

Likewise, neighbors have gathered more signatures and distributed fliers opposing the project.

Months of back-and-forth suggestions and heated e-mails between the two parties will likely take a very public form Tuesday night when the City Council considers what has now become a familiar dilemma — how to balance individual property rights, especially if a project meets the required codes, with community sentiment?

Every single-family home design appeal brought to the council since the 2007 election has been rejected on the grounds of being incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood.

The City Council is scheduled to hear the case at its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers, 613 E. Broadway.

Council says no to home expansion - January 9, 2008
Members deny plans to more than double size of Hermosita Drive house after several changes.
By Ryan Vaillancourt - Glendale News-Press

CITY HALL — The City Council on Tuesday denied a residential expansion project in a decision that not only sent the property owners back to the drawing board, but also lent credence to recent criticism on the city's soon-to-be-modified planning approval process.

After first submitting plans to expand their Verdugo Woodlands home on Hermosita Drive in February 2006, property owners Prakash and Archana Chandran have since modified the project several times over the course of nearly two years at the insistence of the Design Review Board.

Under the direction of the Design Review Board, the Chandrans modified the project six times and shed 650 square feet from the original design. But neighbors — many of them members of the Verdugo Woodlands Homeowners Assn. — roundly opposed the project on grounds that it would be too massive and out of character with the neighborhood.

The existing house sits on a 11,345-square-foot lot and, at 1,292 square feet, is the smallest of 17 homes in the immediate vicinity, according to a city report. But with the addition, which proposes to add 1,457 square feet to the first floor and a new 733-square-foot second floor, the house would expand to 3,482 square feet and become the largest in the area.

After the project was approved in June by Design Review Board No. 1, neighbor Kim Sellars appealed the decision to the Alternative Assessment Panel — comprising members from both Design Review Boards — which upheld the approval by a 5-2 margin. While Archana Chandran disagrees with the council's decision, she said her frustration has less to do with the vote than with the feeling that her family was dragged through a broken design review process.

"We've been victimized by a dysfunctional system," she said. "They've dragged us through this for two years, and we went through each design review with changes recommended, trusting the city to direct us in the right direction, so we . . . detrimentally relied on it."

The applicants had an ally in Councilman Dave Weaver, the only council member to vote in favor of the project.

"Too much house?" Weaver asked. "I don't think so. I think it's been architecturally done good . . . I don't know what more he can do . . . . I've got a compassion for the person. He did do his due diligence."

While Weaver's colleagues empathized with the applicants, they agreed with the appellant's concern that the project was too massive.

Echoing a repeated complaint from Sellars, Councilman Bob Yousefian lambasted an Alternative Assessment Panel recommendation that the applicant add more trees to shield a neighbor's view of the proposed second story.

"You do not use landscaping to hide a building," Yousefian said. "I said this from day one: If you have to use a tree to hide a house, that's right off the bat, there's something wrong right there."

Sellars said area homeowners don't oppose all remodels or additions, and neighbors would support the Chandran project if it eliminated the second story and reduced the size closer to the neighborhood average, which is about 1,982 square feet.

The Chandrans are resolved to return to the city with a revised application, but they have not yet determined whether they will submit a new proposal as soon as possible or wait at least five months for the city to finalize plans to alter the design review process, Archana Chandran said.

The Planning Department is preparing changes to the system including a council recommendation to involve planning staff members earlier in the design review process, Planning Director Hassan Haghani said.

Under the current system, planners are directed to schedule a Design Review Board hearing as soon as a project's application is deemed complete, Haghani said. But under the future system, planners would look to identify red flags in applications and work to iron out potential sticking points before they boil into the type of neighborhood conflicts that tend to land in the City Council's lap, he said.

"I think that the previous [Design Review Board] system, that it was not functioning very well had to do with the fact that the applicants and the neighborhoods would be having to confront each other cold turkey right off the bat. . . . And that mood, normally in these types of public processes, can only escalate. They rarely calm down."

The council faces a similar appeal on Jan. 29, when it is slated to consider a conditional-use permit that was issued for a proposed 7,100-square-foot hillside home at 1650 Hazbeth Lane. Nearby residents appealed the permit to the Board of Zoning Appeals, but the zoning administrator's initial ruling was upheld.

If proposed changes to the design review process work as planned, residential projects like these will never get to the council, Mayor Ara Najarian said.

"I just want to say that this is what's wrong with our system when we have a homeowner with a family and they have to come back . . . five times to the Design Review Board, tweaking here and tweaking there, and it looks like [the Chandrans have been] following every one of their directions," Najarian said. "We're stuck with a project that nobody really wants. Now, we're planning on changing that."

Design battle heads to council - January 6, 2008
Project which has been modified six times since 2006 is set to be debated by City Council Tuesday.
By Ryan Vaillancourt - Glendale News-Press

CITY HALL — A long battle over the proposed expansion of a Verdugo Woodlands hillside home will make its way to the City Council on Tuesday, setting the stage for debate on the recurrent themes of so-called mansionization and neighborhood compatibility.

A neighbor's appeal to the proposed expansion of a 1,292-square-foot, single-story home at Hermosita Drive makes it the second residential project in three months to reach the dais after first making its way through the city's soon-to-be-overhauled design review process.

In denying a proposed two-story home on Sierra Place in October that some neighbors said was too big, the council overturned previous approvals from the Design Review Board and Alternative Assessment Panel.

It was a reversal that appellant and neighbor to the Hermosita project Kim Sellars hopes the council will repeat Tuesday.

Under the direction of Design Review Board No. 1, applicant and property owner Prakash Chandran has modified the project six times and shed 650 square feet from the original design, which was submitted in February 2006.

The existing house is on an 11,345-square-foot sloped lot. At 1,292 square feet, it is the smallest of 17 homes in the area, according to a city staff report.

But with the addition, which proposes to add 1,457 square feet to the first floor and add a new 733-square-foot second floor, the house would become the largest in the area. At 3,482 square feet, the new home would be about 1,500 square feet larger than the neighborhood average, according to a staff report.

The plans were approved in September by the Alternative Assessment Panel — a mix of members from both Design Review Boards — on a 5-2 vote with certain changes to the facade and landscaping, including the addition of sycamore and bay trees.

In her appeal filed with the city, Sellars slammed the panel's decision to require more trees as an attempt to hide a project that is too massive to fit in with the neighborhood.

"If the project is indeed compatible, why must it be screened by trees?" she asked. "We question the practice of attempting to hide inappropriate projects, which will exist for 100 years, with trees and hedges that may die from drought and poor care."

In consulting with city fire officials, planning staffers determined that the proposed landscaping is not considered a fire hazard, according to a staff report.

Whether the council opts to rebuff the Design Review Board members who approved the project, and instead side with Sellars, Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian called the project an example of the types of neighborhood-versus-applicant standoffs that should be settled early in the process.

Another example is a proposed 7,100-square-foot hillside home at 1650 Hazbeth Lane, which was granted a conditional-use permit in July. Nearby residents appealed the permit to the Board of Zoning Appeals, but the zoning administrator's initial ruling was upheld. The project is set to be heard by the council on Jan. 29.

"These are good examples of what we were concerned about when we stepped back and made the changes to the design review process, involving staff at an earlier stage to help guide the projects along to prevent a situation where the applicant has invested a lot of time and money . . . as well as the community, which has appealed it through several levels of the process," Najarian said. " . . I don't want these to come to City Council."

Appeals stacking up on council - October 10, 2007
Proposed addition to Hazbeth home draws no decision, likely leaving it in council's hands.
By Jason Wells - Glendale News-Press

CITY HALL - Another hillside home proposal could soon be appealed to the City Council after the Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday failed to reach a decision on the matter, letting an earlier ruling stand that neighbors say is inconsistent with design guidelines.

Opposition to the project, which would put a house and garage totaling 7,100 square feet atop a hill at 1650 Hazbeth Lane, hinges on recurring themes surrounding recent appeals to residential additions, including neighborhood incompatibility, view protection and, for the foothills, hillside preservation.

When property owner Adel Luzuriaga secured the conditional-use permit in July needed to grade 14,400 cubic yards of earth - mostly for a hillside road up to her proposed home - neighbors mobilized against the project and appealed the permit to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Luzuriaga has owned the 6.6-acre lot for 20 years and only recently decided to build her dream home when she discovered it had direct access to the public portion of Hazbeth Lane, skirting the need for easement access through private property.

The familiar scenario of neighbors pitted against property owner did not escape address at Wednesday's hearing, especially when it became apparent that board member Sam Manoukian's support for upholding the permit would make the needed 3-0 vote for any ruling impossible.

"It's unfortunate that we seem to come across these cases more and more," he said. "It's a very unfortunate situation, and you can't blame either side."

But those on either side did not share that sentiment after the board failed to reach a binding decision, voting 2-1 to overturn Zoning Administrator Edith Fuentes' issuance of the permit.

Anthony Czarnecki, a neighbor who now plans to appeal Fuentes' decision to the City Council, said the project would destroy the neighborhood view of the hill, which has been vacant for the 20 years that Luzuriaga has owned the property.

"She's got property rights, but so do all the other neighbors around," he said.

That argument has been at the crux of several recent appeals of single-family projects that have so overflowed the design review process that they are beginning to spill onto the City Council's agenda at a regular clip.

The council will next hear the appeal that resident Kim Sellars filed in September against an Alternative Assessment Panel's approval of plans for a two-story home next door to her property on Hermosita Drive, also in the Verdugo Woodlands.

With the Hazbeth proposal likely to enter the City Council appeals pipeline, zoning appeals board member Arthur Devine said that even though the proposed home had a floor-area-to-lot-size ratio of just 2% - well below the maximum allowed 30% threshold - its visual impact would surely draw the ire of the City Council, which on Tuesday cited the same issue in rejecting a Sierra Place project despite it meeting zoning codes.

Chairwoman Nancy Burke agreed that despite the challenges of an average slope of 66% on the lot, it did not outweigh the proposed project's cut into the hilltop and ridgeline.

But Luzuriaga and her five-member design team said they had explored the property's potential, and that a hilltop home would have the least environmental impact as opposed to excavation required for planting a home in the hillside.

"We did look at everything," Luzuriaga said.

Luzuriaga has taken public outreach for project applicants to a new level in Glendale by establishing a website featuring renderings, facts and a three-dimensional video presentation of her home's model.

The project's designer, George Boghossian, said the proposed home's roof line was designed to carry the contour of the hilltop through, and that the steepness of the property presented severe design challenges for hillside options.

Some on her design team were optimistic that the project would find favor with the City Council, despite its decision Tuesday on the Sierra Place home and public statements from some council members against the prevalence of incompatible residential designs.

"If I follow the guidelines, we're going to end up with essentially the same house," said Fred Dean, the project's architect. "Maybe they're just against development at this point."

Czarnecki has 15 days to file his appeal with the City Council, after which it could be months before it is scheduled on the agenda, planning officials said.