Offers Perspective on Community Plan for North Glendale

Glendale planners have been working with a 30-plus member committee to draft a Community Plan for North Glendale. It is working its way through boards and commissions and will have a hearing at the Planning Commission meeting of Aug. 17 (see the city’s website for details

I appreciate all the work staff and fellow Advisory Committee members spent learning about our neighborhoods and each other and what we want going forward for our valley. The resulting draft documents represent a broad consensus on nearly all aspects. My comments focus on the one area we were not able to come to agreement on: the allowed heights of commercial buildings. Foothill Boulevard should be limited to 35 foot tall buildings rather than the 50 foot current limit or any of the hybrid proposals, and the north side of Verdugo Boulevard should be left at a 35 foot height limit.

Those arguing for higher limits cite the need for economic growth yet recent experience in the Crescenta Valley illustrates lower rise development seems to be more successful than larger structures. The single-story mini mall on the north side of the 3700 block of Foothill Boulevard is mostly leased with busy tenants while the over sized medical office building at 3600 Verdugo Road remains nearly empty as it looms over its neighbors.

One size does not fit all. North Glendale should offer a different commercial experience than downtown, where the higher, more massive structures are welcome.

Economic “experts” often turn out to be wrong. After decades of planning and development, the Sports Chalet complex in La Cañada Flintridge didn’t produce a profit for its owner. It was recently sold for much less than its development cost. Those who benefit from development, whether it turns out to be viable or not – the Realtors, architects, expediters, etc. – are the “experts” saying development won’t pencil out unless the higher limits are allowed. The owners who foot the bill end up losing money and the community is stuck with inappropriate eyesores like 3600 Verdugo Road.

The Foothill/Commerce center in Tujunga, our western neighbor, sits with only one tenant after being completed for some time. Yet low rise Montrose continues to attract crowds of shoppers and diners even in these difficult economic times.

I see the residents on the advisory committee protecting the commercial property owners from greedy developers wanting to extricate more profit rather than create a sustainable project.

It’s been said the residential property owners adjacent to Foothill on the south knew they were getting a lower price because of the location. Likewise, the commercial property owners knew there was a compatibility rule that precluded over sized buildings on their holdings. It is quite likely the existing compatibility requirement and widespread resident objection would preclude anything higher than 35 feet anyway. Owners and potential buyers should have clear expectations of what they can do with the property.

The unincorporated L.A. County portion of La Crescenta to the east of Glendale’s segment of Foothill limit buildings to 35 feet and in Tujunga to the west it’s 33 feet. That says to me the experts in those jurisdictions came to the conclusion the appropriate height along Foothill is 33-35 feet. Clearly the neighborly thing to do is lower heights on our part of Foothill Boulevard to 35 feet.

Those third party “experts” who stand to gain personally from development of any kind may be generating unrealistic expectations about the long term profitability. Bigger is not always better.

I urge you to contact Laura Stotler, or Alan Loomis, and let them know your thoughts.

Sharon Weisman
Sharon Weisman is a civic leader, longtime foothill resident and contributor to Spiritually Speaking.