Fight Brewing Over Growth Regulations

Times Staff Writer

Against the background of a heated debate over growth in Glendale that has pitted city officials against developers, the council and Planning Commission will hold joint study sessions next week on revising zoning regulations and building standards.

Council members said they will call for limits on the size of apartment buildings and condominiums. The zoning regulations may also require builders to provide more off-street parking and more space for recreation.

John McKenna, director of planning, said new regulations would aim to control population growth and improve the quality of life in the city's residential neighborhoods.

Both developers and representatives of homeowner groups say they are gearing up for a fight over the proposed changes.

"We will be right in the middle of it," said Joe Bridges of the Glendale Hills Coordinating Council, a coalition of 10 north Glendale homeowner associations. "Glendale has been a good middle-class city for many years. We have an interest in trying to preserve that image."

Threatened Way of Life?

City Council members said a review of the zoning regulations for multifamily dwellings is necessary because residents have complained that Glendale's way of life is threatened by a proliferation of apartment buildings and condominiums.

"We were getting letters and phone calls," Councilman Larry Zarian said. "They were saying, 'Enough is enough. When are you going to stop the building in the city?' "

Zarian said construction of apartment buildings on streets once lined with single-family homes has created a shortage of parking and led to crowding in local schools.

The council will consider regulations for tracts zoned for high-, medium- and low-density apartment buildings and condominiums, most of which are in the southern and central sections of the city.

The first informal study sessions, at which no action will be taken, are scheduled for Monday and Nov. 14.

According to McKenna, the Planning Department began drafting proposed modifications to the city's zoning ordinance this week. Changes in the law may be made after the Planning Commission and City Council hold hearings on the department's recommendations in the coming months, he said.

Building Moratorium

Although the council and the Planning Department have yet to announce specific changes to city zoning laws, a controversy erupted in September when the council enacted a 5-month building moratorium on building permits for most multifamily dwellings while the city establishes the new regulations.

Councilman Jerold Milner said a moratorium was necessary because the city was flooded with building-permit applications before it revised its building and zoning laws in 1986.

"The developers went into this frenzy . . . because they knew we faced the prospect of new zoning," Milner said. "We were taken advantage of. We resolved not to be taken advantage of this time."

But developers complained that the moratorium froze building projects in which they had already invested large sums of money and asked the council to grant exemptions. Both developers and homeowners' groups filled the chambers of the Glendale City Council during the 3-week debate that followed, hurling insults at each other and the council members, threatening legal action and invoking everything from the Constitution to the Pledge of Allegiance to support their positions.

Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg said her office had received "100 form letters a day" from angry developers protesting the manner in which the moratorium was implemented. "We've had incredible pressure," she said.

In defense of their action, council members have cited school district statistics showing that enrollment in the eight Glendale elementary schools south of the Ventura Freeway has increased dramatically in the past 2 years. Mayor Carl Raggio said during a council meeting last week that the rapid increase is a direct result of the addition of apartment buildings in the area.

According to the Glendale Unified School District, the student population at the eight schools increased from 4,352 in 1982 to 6,011 in 1988. More than 2,500 students at the schools are being instructed in trailers used as temporary classrooms.

School district spokesman Vic Pallos also links the growing school population to construction in the area. "Anything that the city would do in the way of slowing down the number of units open to new families would certainly assist the school district," he said.

On south Glendale's quiet, tree-lined streets, new apartment buildings with subterranean garages are sprouting among the neighborhood's single-family homes, leading to some complaints from long-term residents.

Changing Neighborhood

"It's going to be all apartments soon," said Ruth Nicholas, 62, a resident of south Adams Street. Nicholas lives in a small but elegant Spanish-style home next to one apartment building and across the street from a 3-story apartment building under construction. "They were all homes before. It sort of takes away from the neighborhood."

B. J. Wright, a renter and a resident of south Adams Street, said construction in the past 2 years has led to congestion of neighborhood streets. "The traffic here has doubled. This has become a thoroughfare, with all the building going on. It's unbelievable."

Residents' concerns about growth are shared by the Planning Department. City planner Jim Glaser said residential construction has caused the city's annual rate of population growth to double from 1.5% between 1980 and 1983 to 3% between 1986 and 1988.

Zarian said he feared that if the current rate of construction continues, Glendale's population will soon surpass the 200,000 limit established in the city's General Plan.

"If the city grows over 200,000, we'll need to provide police, fire, sidewalks and sewers. All of those things are not going to be available," Zarian said.

But Berdj Karapetian, a spokesman for the Glendale Fair Growth Coalition, a group of 300 local builders, said he was dubious of the city's projections. The city has failed to provide evidence of its claims, he said, adding that the number of requests for building permits has decreased significantly since 1986.

"Are they trying to fan the flames and create sentiments against people in the construction industry?" Karapetian asked rhetorically. "Is there a political agenda in this?"

Karapetian said he was not optimistic about the public hearings in the coming months, at which proposed modifications to the current zoning ordinance will be discussed. "We're going to go through the exercise," he said. "The sentiment of the coalition is to try and give our input. But we're not sure what we're saying is going to be heard."

Milner said he believed the changes in the zoning ordinance would be significantly less broad than in 1986, when the city spent two years reorganizing its building and zoning ordinances for commercial and residential areas.

Skeptical View

Councilman John Day, the only member of the council to vote against the changes in 1986, said he supported the moratorium but was skeptical about what could be achieved through changes in zoning regulations. "I just believe in less regulation rather than more," he said.

Dan Nelson, the owner of a flower shop on Central Avenue, is circulating a petition in support of the moratorium. On Tuesday, he presented petitions with 1,076 signatures to the council.

"I became very angry when I heard the vociferous brow-beating the City Council is receiving from the development community," Nelson said. "I was concerned that the council should also hear from the silent majority that supports the moratorium."

But Karapetian said the City Council shares some of the blame for the problems caused by rapid development. "The builders are not the only ones to blame. Part of the responsibility has to go to the people who instituted the rules and the laws. It shouldn't be open season against people in the construction industry."

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