Whether a Flintridge area resident should be allowed to build an 8,000-square-foot home on an irregular lot at the corner of Berkshire Avenue and Beulah Drive dominated Monday's City Council meeting, with architects, neighbors and city staff weighing in.
The discussion came in a public hearing as council considered an appeal filed with the Planning Commission by neighbors who took issue with Christopher Petrossian's plans for a dream home at 837 Berkshire Ave.
Ultimately, council denied the appeal, upholding the commission's approval of the project, but the process laid bare a common La Cañada predicament — having to negotiate between giving owners a right to seek modifications and suffering the consequences of designs run amok.
"This neighborhood is a very special neighborhood," Councilman John Curtis said of the irregular lots and zoning codes. "The reason you like La Cañada is the differences, not the conformity. [But] it's a place the city and all its residents want to protect."
In March, Petrossian applied for a second-story review and a setback modification that would allow him to build a two-story house, garage and driveway, oriented to Berkshire Avenue, on a lot currently developed as a one-story home facing Beulah Drive.
The proposed structure would come within nearly 44 feet of Berkshire, violating a code requiring a 95-foot setback. The Planning Commission approved the project in a 2-1 vote.
A March appeal, filed by Berkshire property owners Jerick and Hilda Hacobian, claimed Petrossian's plan to move the driveway from Beulah to Berkshire presented a traffic danger not considered by the commission, and that changing the size and orientation of the home conflicted with the city's municipal code.
A driveway on Berkshire, they said Monday, could potentially result in increased traffic accidents. What followed was a heated discussion among neighbors, speaking in public comments, about which road was more dangerous for a driveway — Berkshire or Beulah.
The Hacobians also alleged that Petrossian illegally removed a protected tree in the path of the proposed driveway so the plans would be approved.
"Had this (tree) never been touched and honesty won the day, we would never even have a driveway to discuss," Hilda Hacobian said.
Petrossian, who brought an architect and a landscape contractor to speak on his behalf, defended the driveway plans and said he met with neighbors several times about the plans and did everything above board.
"We did the best we could with the property we had," he told the council. "For some people change is just hard, and not everyone's going to be happy when you're replacing homes. But we believe the facts are on our side."
After more than two hours, council members unanimously rejected the Hacobians' appeal, with Curtis adding a condition that city staff examine measures to make foot and car traffic safer along Berkshire Avenue and Beulah Drive.
Mayor Pro Tem Don Voss thanked residents for speaking out, but decried much of the night's discussion.
"What we've heard tonight is largely subterfuge and it's not directly relative to the nature of the application," Voss said. "We appreciate all the concerns, but this is a good project. I think the Planning Commission made a good decision."
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