Vote on Ending Apartment Ban Put Off for 18th Time

Times Staff Writer

For the last nine months, developer Haik Vartanian has gone to Glendale City Council meetings in hopes that council members would adopt or even vote on an ordinance that would end the city's year-old moratorium on apartment construction. On Tuesday, he was disappointed again--the ordinance was postponed for the 18th time.

The moratorium-ending ordinance, which would change design standards in apartment neighborhoods, has become a fixture on the agenda for council meetings and a constant source of disillusionment to Vartanian and a small group of developers who are now City Hall regulars. Their projects in the final plan-approval stages have been stalled by the building freeze. They are eager to get them moving again.

They will have to wait.

A memorandum by Planning Director John McKenna to City Manager David Ramsay made public this week advises council members to defer action on the ordinance until council members agree on temporary zoning controls. The controls are aimed at preventing a population explosion while the city establishes permanent zoning changes--a process that would take about two years.

In the memorandum, written Aug. 24 and released this week by Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg, McKenna advises council members to delay ending the moratorium until they can resolve issues that are not dealt with in the ordinance.

"If consensus amongst council members is reached on the 'Design Ordinance,' defer action on the ordinance until the other topics . . . are also resolved. . . ," it recommends. The document fueled long-held suspicions by developers that the council was purposely dragging its feet on the moratorium.

"It shows that the moratorium will last a lot longer than what the city openly represented," said Edwin Shriver, who represents the group of developers led by Vartanian.

The council unanimously adopted the moratorium in September to prevent an overflow of building applications while the city considered zoning changes to control growth. Two months later, the planning staff introduced a draft ordinance proposing zoning changes that council members saw as the solution to the city's growth problems.

But months later, council members acknowledged that the proposed ordinance would do little more than improve the city's aesthetic appearance and began calling it the "design ordinance."

Meanwhile, the council extended the moratorium for the third time in July to February, 1990, or until the design ordinance is adopted. Council members said the moratorium extensions were needed to examine the ordinance carefully.

Council members say they want to adopt the design restrictions featured in the ordinance, but are not willing to end the moratorium until they agree on and implement zoning restrictions limiting the city's population.

Unable to agree on what these restrictions should be, at least two council members said they are waiting for the result of the land-use survey being conducted by the city planning staff.

Studying Measures

The survey, which will take at least two more months to complete, will help council members determine what measures are necessary to keep the city's population from exceeding 220,000, which is recommended by the General Plan.

The memorandum released this week also warns that adopting the design ordinance and concurrently enacting a new moratorium is not defensible in court, according to Senior Assistant City Atty. Scott H. Howard.

Vartanian and a group of fellow developers with projects halted by the moratorium have sued the city for not processing their building permits even though they were requested before the freeze.

A second lawsuit by the same group, representing some 25 projects, challenges the validity of the moratorium's three extensions. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the developers in the first lawsuit, but the city appealed the decision and an appellate court decision is pending. The second suit has been delayed until the first one is resolved.

Since March, the council has done little more that go over the ordinance line by line, then ask the staff to make some changes, then go over it line by line again.

"We want to make sure we do it right," said Mayor Jerold Milner. More often than not, however, the design ordinance is continued to the following week because, as Milner has repeated several times, "we don't have time to get around to it."

No Agreement

As McKenna's memorandum points out, the reason that the moratorium continues is that council members can't agree on temporary growth control measures. In July and again last month, Councilman Carl Raggio introduced an ordinance that would reduce by half the number of apartment units allowed per lot. On both occasions, the proposal fell short of the four-vote majority needed to pass.

Councilmen Dick Jutras and Larry Zarian blocked the proposal. They argued that it is too drastic and would allow the real estate market to stagnate by raising property values beyond the range of all but a few. Zoning laws require at least a 4-1 majority.

"There is no such thing as a temporary ordinance in Glendale," Zarian said. "What kind of message do you think we would be sending to our planning staff if we adopted the 50% reductions?"

Since the council stalemate on the moratorium issue, the planning staff has redirected its emphasis toward controlling " mansionization" in single-family neighborhoods.

'They're in Limbo'

As the discussion drags on, Shriver complains that developers are not only being denied the opportunity to do their work, but must pay interest on the land and property taxes. "They're in limbo," he said. "Some of my clients are small developers and simply can't afford it.

"I think the courts will react very strongly when they find out that the moratorium, which was supposed to be an interim measure while the city resolved some design issues, is not going to be resolved in the foreseeable future."

Ramsay, who returned from vacation this week, said he had not read McKenna's memorandum. He said the design ordinance continues to appear in the council agenda because "the council has requested it. It is a complex issue and they want to go over it line by line. I think they are very close to being done."

Vartanian isn't holding his breath. "The council's consideration so far has been less than zero, and I don't expect any changes."

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