Stalled projects are a headache for both neighbor and builder

A couple of months ago, I wrote about an unfinished housing project on Frances Avenue that had become a messy headache for that neighborhood. The property owners have since cleaned up the lot, including significant brush clearance, removing construction debris, and re-fencing the abandoned pool. I hope these actions have helped to improve neighborhood relations.

When I wrote that column, I was unprepared for the avalanche of e-mail responses from neighbors of other misguided local developments.

One such e-mail was from an older lady who lives next door to a very large multifamily project in the 3100 block of Montrose Avenue. She told me that the project appeared to have stalled mid-construction, and was now an eyesore. I decided to pay her a visit a couple of weeks ago to get a view from her perspective.

I pulled up in front of a huge partially completed building that fronts Montrose Avenue. Progress on it seemed to have been halted just before stucco was to be applied: The walls were covered with tarpaper and chicken wire, and the entire structure was enveloped in an intricate web of paint-spattered scaffolding. Architectural details that had attractive potential were unpainted, weather-beaten and cracked. The site was minimally fenced, and there appeared to be someone living in a ramshackle trailer on-site.

The lady who had sent me the e-mail showed me onto her balcony, where the development stood window-to-window with her condo. The scaffolding, in place for several months now, provided easy ladder access directly to her balcony. Besides the obvious security issues, she was also worried about fire. With the unfinished driveways and construction debris clogging the walkways, she felt there was no way firefighters could get in there. The value of her home – if she could sell at all – would be severely reduced.

She told me the project, which began almost three years ago, had gone well for a few months but stalled a year and a half ago; it had only been worked on intermittently since. She said the last time anyone had worked there was October 2009. Did she call the city of Glendale? Of course, and they were helpful, but only to a point.

I put in a couple calls to the city and got responses right away. Both the Planning Division and the Building and Safety Division confirmed that the building permits were still active. I had a long talk with a representative in Building and Safety, and he was sympathetic, not only with the neighbors of the project but with the builder as well. He explained that the builder probably had lost his funding and was just doing the minimum work to keep his permits active while he scrambled to line up a new loan. What could the city do? They could push the builder all they wanted, but if he had no money, it would do nothing. Their only option was to go after the builder in court, and that would only delay the project longer. He explained that they normally ask builders to finish projects within a two-year window, but with the current economy, that was hard to enforce.

A call to Neighborhood Services confirmed everything I’d just heard. They said there were many such stalled projects citywide, with few options on enforcing compliance, and that they were currently meeting with other city officials to craft some policy on how to deal with the mess.

So what’s the answer for beleaguered neighbors of this hopefully temporary eyesore? To wait it out? And how can the city help, when the normal punitive fines and fees would only push the builder further under? All these questions will, for now, remain unanswered.

We hand developers a lot of power over the future of our neighborhoods when we agree to let them build in our community. Their profit increases proportionally in the desirable neighborhoods we have maintained. I would hope that they would reciprocate with neighborly courtesy – in this case by addressing the concerns of their neighbors.

Mike Lawler is the president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley.

He can be reached at lawlerdad@yahoo

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