I’ve heard a lot of comments from locals about the new three-story medical offices on the edge of Montrose, at Verdugo Road and Broadview Drive, mostly to the tune of “What happened there?”
You can’t miss that building. It’s a looming modern glass-and-steel structure that raises huge issues about compatibility. Although it’s not in the Montrose Shopping Park proper, it lies close enough to it to creep into the peripheral vision of those who view Montrose as a precious gem of small-town ambience.
It has its architectural good points, but viewed from the shopping park, its major feature is a north-facing, three-story blank wall. That wall baffles me. It hasn’t any windows, no articulation at all, and seems to have no purpose architecturally other than to hold the roof up. Its appearance from Montrose is that of a featureless monolith. What does that say to the community? They might as well write in big letters on that north wall, “Up yours, Montrose!” At least that would be something interesting to look at.
Compatibility has been the byword for architecture in the Foothills recently. Homeowners associations and community activists have used compatibility as a rallying cry for the future of our slower-paced valley. This building, whether you like its appearance or not, is not compatible with the look and feel of what most residents want for the future of Montrose.
So what did happen here? It’s very simple. The community was asleep at the wheel. We simply weren’t paying attention.
Here’s how it went down:
First it helps to know how the Design Review Board for Glendale works. The Design Review Board, or DRB, is supposed to be the guardian of what types of buildings happen in Glendale. If it’s ugly or out of place, it’s the board’s job to catch it before it gets built. The board members are volunteers who are passionate about design or architecture. By nature, that means some of them are builders or architects themselves.
It’s been my experience with the members of the DRB that they, for the most part, have a fairly cosmopolitan view of architecture and compatibility – meaning, in simpler terms, that they like modern architecture. As a matter of fact, they encourage it, so it’s no surprise that they liked this design when it came before them in 2005. However, it’s also been my experience that if enough community members show up to the meetings to demand design that is more in tune with our vision of a simple and quiet community, they will concede, as we saw with the recent Foothill Lumber blow-up.
On Sept. 15, 2005, this design hit the DRB for the first time. This was to be a “preliminary review” in which the concept of the building is examined. Does it match the neighborhood? Is it too big or too small? Does the architectural style work? The simple stuff, for the most part. Despite the recommendation by the Glendale Planning Department that the DRB carefully consider the mass and scale of this project in relation to the smaller scale buildings around it, the board OK’d it to go to a final review. Apparently, it was still under the radar of the community at large at that point.
Here’s where a little cynicism is warranted on my part. It is said among community activists that if a project is controversial, any public meetings concerning it will be scheduled for times when the community is likely to not notice, like around holidays or vacation times.
True to that cynical sentiment, the final DRB review for this project was scheduled for Dec. 29, 2005, smack between Christmas and New Year’s Day. With only three members of the five-member board present, it was approved as we see it today, with nary a blip on the public’s radar. The final indictment of the public’s involvement in this mess? The DRB minutes read as follows:
Speaking at the meeting
In Favor: No One
In Opposition: No One
Interested Party: No One
There always seems to be one final irony in events like this. In this case, it was that the meeting was adjourned after a message from the planning department that a study session would be scheduled in February 2006 to look at “compatibility issues.”
So, even though we’re stuck with a building that most people don’t like, some good came out of this. As the building took shape, the community woke up to what had happened, and there was some anger vented at City Hall.
Changes began to take place in the Glendale Planning Department, and the way it handles controversial projects like this. It was put on notice by City Council that there must be better notification processes to the community put in place. No more saying, “We didn’t know about it.” The notification mailing requirements were made more accurate, and the notices posted on proposed project sites went from a piece of paper pasted on a stick to the small billboards we now see. We also enjoy more “upstream planning” by Glendale that is focused on Crescenta Valley, like the recent Montrose Shopping Park workshops or the North Glendale Community Plan Study Sessions. Thanks to the fallout from projects such as the Verdugo and Broadview building, CV is taking the lead in Glendale politics. There had been an attitude in Glendale circles that CV residents don’t “get it,” and that we were sadly missing out on the big circus going on downtown. That attitude is waning, although there are still some holdouts that don’t understand us, people such as Rick Caruso and the powers behind the Glendale News-Press. We’re just fundamentally different than the larger Glendale. Simple, quiet, and family-friendly is what we’re all about. I think you readers know what I mean.
This building caused change, but the price of that change is vigilance. The city and the county don’t know what we want unless we tell them. Take part in Glendale’s meetings. Go to CV Town Council events. Join groups of community activists. We must get involved or we can look forward to more buildings like “Starship Verdugo.”