By Jason KUROSU
The Vahan & Anoush Chamlian Armenian School’s proposal for a new gymnasium was approved by the Glendale City Council last week, bringing a conclusion to what continues to be a divisive issue between the school and local residents. The proposal was initially denied by the Glendale City Planning Commission in January, but the gymnasium idea was brought back to the forefront when the decision was appealed by the gymnasium’s project consultant, Rodney Khan.
The original denial by the Planning Commission was due to the building’s proposed height of 35 feet, which would exceed the code for the area by 10 feet, along with exceeding floor area restrictions. But concerns over traffic and parking, many voiced by residents living near the school, also contributed to the decision.
Lowell Avenue, already a busy street due to its close proximity with the Foothill  Freeway, has experienced heavy traffic, particularly when parents drop off and pick up their children from the Chamlian School. The school has taken measures to attempt to reduce the traffic.
“We’re constantly trying to educate our kids and our parents about the traffic,” said Chamlian School’s Operations Manager Anoush Mangasarian. “We’ve asked our parents to carpool. We’ve asked them to park on Foothill and walk down with their kids. We’ve hired police and crossing guards to manage the traffic and have worked with the Glendale City Traffic and Safety Committee. We have a loudspeaker set up so we can announce the students’ names when their parents come to pick them up.”
But despite this, residents still feel that the school draws an undue amount of traffic, particularly during special events such as Back to School nights. Many feel the gymnasium will only exacerbate these problems.
A neighbor who brought forth her concerns at the Planning Commission and City Council meetings spoke about her disappointment with the decision.
“Obviously, we are very disappointed,” the woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said. “We’re very disappointed and surprised that the City Council would overturn its own Planning Commission.”
The May 31 City Council meeting in which the appeal was approved featured a number of parents, students and faculty from the Chamlian School stating their case to the City Council for the gymnasium. Many cited concerns over weather and injuries sustained on the asphalt playground, which they believe will be alleviated with an indoor gym.
Khan expressed some frustration at the meeting over the setbacks in the gymnasium’s approval.
“As a private school, we’re required to go through a number of hearings, a number of discretionary applications. If we were a public school, there would be no community outreach, no hearings and the gym would be built, up and operating right now.”
He later went on to say, “I have no idea why a gymnasium at a school is a controversial project.”
Chamlian’s principal Vazken Madenlian spoke about the concerns over increased parking due to special events.
“Some of our neighbors are concerned of the possibility that we may use our gymnasium to hold sports tournaments on our grounds. I assure you that this will not be the case. Our school is much too small for such tournaments.
“Our only purpose for this project is to enhance the daily physical education of our students.”
To accommodate the extra parking necessary for special events such as Back to School night, the school will provide parking on the playground for about 100 cars in addition to the 61 parking spaces already established.
But residents are concerned about the occupancy load of a gymnasium of this size, which could reportedly hold up to 1300 people.
At the City Council meeting, resident Frank de Rossi said, “Additional activities at the gym will cause additional traffic, parking problems and safety issues. Cars still park across the street at the church, children still run across the street with their parents to get dropped off. They still park in front of houses on residential streets. I think it’s ludicrous to think that this gym that can house 1300 people is not going to cause additional traffic.”
De Rossi spoke of an incident when his child came close to being hit by a Chamlian parent’s car last October and other residents expressed similar concerns about the safety of residents, their children and also the students of the Chamlian School due to traffic that they believe will only increase with the erection of the gymnasium.
Residents continued to be upset about the City Council overturning the Planning Commission’s decision and the way the meeting was being conducted.
Resident Steve Johnson said, “A point has been made that the gym would be great for the school and yet here we are in a zoning hearing. There [has] been a lot of people here from the school and that has nothing to do with the zone. All that is intended to manipulate the situation to get away from the zoning issues.”
He later added, “Respect our neighborhood in spite of the politics, please.”
The politics of the City Council’s decision has been an issue with the residents, who contend that councilmembers Rafi Manoukian and Ara Najarian should have excused themselves from the decision because of their ties to the Chamlian School. Councilmember Manoukian has two children attending Chamlian School.
City Attorney Scott Howard addressed the issue at the City Council meeting, saying, “We discussed the possibility of a conflict of interest … In discussing this with Councilmember Manoukian and looking into what the activities of the school are and what the role of the parents are, we’ve determined that Councilmember Manoukian’s role at the school was no greater than any other parent at the school, that the children at the school will be graduating I believe in approximately two weeks, so there will be no benefit to the children or to the Councilmember or members of his family.”
In response to requests that Councilmember Najarian also excuse himself from the meeting, Howard said, “I have not had discussions with Councilmember Najarian. I heard that there may be issues with not members of his family but extended family that might attend the school. Assuming that’s accurate, I think the same analysis applies, although it’s even further attenuated by the fact that it’s not his immediate family attending the school.”
Now that the gymnasium has been approved, fundraising efforts will commence, among other things. While the school’s fight for a gymnasium has reached its conclusion, the tension between supporters of the gymnasium and the residents, who feel that their concerns are being ignored, is still palpable.