City of Glendale seeks to change zoning rules

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously initiated the process to make changes to zoning rules that may alter who approves San Fernando Road Corridor development projects and gives developers tools to set their own standards.

One tweak would shift review of San Fernando projects that are 10,000 square feet or larger in some instances from the City Council to the Design Review Board, a lower-level commission consisting of design professionals appointed by the council.

The proposal was prompted after council members complained about critiquing project designs when they don’t have the same level of expertise in that arena as their appointees. The council currently has design review authority over former redevelopment project areas, which include downtown and the corridor.

Despite the proposal, the council would remain the first review authority for downtown projects.

If a San Fernando project triggered certain thresholds, such as significant change of use or parking reductions, it would still be sent to the council, officials said. Otherwise, it would go to the Design Review Board. Specifics about those thresholds must still be ironed out. Proposed changes will first be reviewed by the Planning Commission and then go to the council for a final vote.

Projects in the corridor include the Link, a 142-unit building at 3901 San Fernando Road, as well as the Glendale Triangle Project, which is set to be across the street and include 287 apartments.

The Link was controversial because it involved the demolition of a 1930s commercial building considered historic by preservationists. City Manager Scott Ochoa said if the new review authority plan were in place when the Link went through the pipeline, it would have gone straight to council review.

If a project receives community backlash, “we can punt that up the ladder,” Ochoa said.

Secondly, the council also gave the go-ahead for city officials to begin crafting rules that would allow developers to create tailored zoning codes for specific properties. Doing so would give the developer the flexibility to build on sites that may be large, require unusual land assembly, span zoning code boundaries or have other unique characteristics, according to a city report.

The so-called “Precise Plan of Development Overlay Zone” may cost the developer between $20,000 and $30,000 to create and would require a 4-1 vote by the council, officials said.

“In exchange for some extraordinary public benefit, we, the city of Glendale, would be willing to customize our zoning code,” Ochoa said, noting that the main tool the city had used in the past to attract private developers — redevelopment dollars — is no more. State lawmakers killed redevelopment agencies throughout California in 2012. Glendale used its redevelopment money to help build projects such as the Americana at Brand and Disney Creative Campus.

“The ability for the city to assemble property through economic development, we don’t have that,” Ochoa told the council. “Where we bring value to the private market is the land-use authority and the discretion that you have.”

Councilwoman Laura Friedman said she didn’t picture the overlay zone as a means to give developers extra density allowances, but rather as a way to encourage more creative development.

Community Development Director Hassan Haghani said the changes would be targeted to specific properties rather than entire zones, like the Downtown Specific Plan, which includes a variety of incentives that prompted the recent building boom of mixed-use projects.

Like the corridor changes, the amendments needed to codify the proposed overlay zone must now go to the Planning Commission and then to the council for final review.

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