Can you envision Foothill Boulevard as a canyon of office towers? A little extreme perhaps, but a distinct possibility in a planning document currently being designed by the City of Glendale.
The “North Glendale Community Plan” will guide future development in the Glendale portion of Foothill Boulevard, and a 50-foot building height limit is currently being considered. That’s taller than the telephone poles along Foothill! That height is in stark contrast to the County portion of Foothill to the east and the City of L.A. portion to the west. Just over the border at Pennsylvania, the County height limit is 35 feet, and in development friendly city of Los Angeles just on the other side of Lowell, the height limit is even lower at 33 feet.
What’s odd about Glendale’s possible acceptance of oversize office towers is that the document proposing it, a long overdue update to the Community Plan, was originally kicked off by the fight over a proposed three-story office behemoth on the site of the former Foothill Lumber. Three years ago that development was fought long and hard by CV residents who saw the building not only as a sore thumb sticking out of a mainly one-story streetscape, but also as a trend toward more office towers in the future.
That three-story building was eventually denied based on the fact that it was incompatible with the buildings around it. The developer in that case argued, and rightly so, that there are few city guidelines and standards for development along Foothill that give builders any clue as to what exactly is compatible.
Because of this controversy, in 2008 the Glendale Planning Department began an exhaustive process of defining the guidelines for future development in La Crescenta. They put together a committee made up of residents, property owners and realtors to hammer out answers to the question, “What do we want CV to look like in the future?” The ad hoc committee created the following statement as a foundation for their work:
“We value and embrace a rural suburban lifestyle which allows us to live and work close to nature, offers unique and varied neighborhood-based shopping opportunities, quality schools, a variety of recreational opportunities and recognizes our connection to the mountains, neighboring communities, and our history. We seek to protect open space, advocate sustainable development, preserve and enhance neighborhood character, provide transportation options and balance land uses.”
It’s a beautiful vision, and throughout a couple of years of hard work by this committee and the planning staff, it was their rock. As a team they defined and refined the development standards, most of which hadn’t been updated since the early ’70s.
But the team spirit collapsed when they got to the Foothill building height issue. That’s ironic because that’s the very subject that brought them together in the first place. The two sides were pretty well defined – developers, realtors and property owners pushing for a 50-foot height limit, suitable only for offices, and residents pushing for a 35-foot limit, better matched to retail. After weeks of acrimonious negotiations between the two sides it was obvious that the very issue that drove the creation of this committee could not be solved by this committee. The Planning staff threw up their hands, and said, “Fine. Then we’ll let the City Council decide.”
And so, that’s where it’s headed. The North Glendale Community Plan will be voted on in October by the City Council. It is a finished document, and a good one, except for one section: height on Foothill Boulevard. The Council will make the final decision – 50-foot offices, 35-foot retail, or a combo of varying height. Those who read my column know my preference. I see the rows of “Office for Lease” signs on Foothill as an indicator that office towers like the still empty Starship Verdugo are not needed or wanted. But the Council may see the tax dollars attached to any new development, even if it sits empty after completion. It’s up to us to make our preference known to the Council.
I will, and I hope you will too.