Building Too Tall for Area, Study Concludes


An independent environmental impact study has concluded that a 16-story office tower, proposed for construction on Central Avenue at Ventura Freeway along with a seven-story medical building, is too tall and massive for the neighborhood.

Glendale developer Gary Tobian, a city planning commissioner, and his partners, Hillman Development Co. of Glendale and Kajima Development Co. of Los Angeles, have planned for years to build a high-rise project at the busy intersection just outside the downtown redevelopment zone.

But an environmental study prepared by Industry-based Willdan Associates recommends that the tallest building be reduced to no more than 10 stories and that the bulk of the project be cut by 25%.

"The heights of the proposed buildings are not consistent with the zoning codes or with prevailing building heights in the area," concluded the study, released late last month. It also criticized the design of the project as creating an "awkward relationship and arbitrary shifting of proportion between two buildings of greatly different heights."

Tobian said Tuesday he is "a little surprised" by the findings of the study, which was paid for by the developer but commissioned by the city. He said a reduction of the project would render it economically infeasible.

The project is proposed for a 2.5-acre site at 655 N. Central Ave. It would replace a three- to six-story medical building backed by a surface parking lot on Pioneer Drive. Immediately west of the project is the 18-story Park Towers condominium development, which rises above the Ventura Freeway.

However, the south side of Pioneer Drive is lined with older, single-family houses. The proposed development could block views of the Verdugo Mountains for those residents, according to the study. Also, traffic would increase on the residential street.

The city last week invited about 425 neighbors to submit their comments on the project by April 5, after which a final environmental report will be prepared for approval by the city. A joint public hearing is scheduled April 9 before the Environmental and Planning Board and the City Council.

Tobian and other developers successfully argued against a proposal by city planners four years ago to limit the height of commercial buildings along Central to six stories. Central serves as the western border of the downtown redevelopment zone, which also is roughly bounded by Maryland Avenue on the east, Glenoaks Boulevard on the north and Colorado Street on the south. There is no height limitation on buildings within the redevelopment area.

Officials in 1987 said height controls outside the zone were necessary to curtail increased traffic congestion, noise and burgeoning development downtown. They also wanted to send a strong message to builders that City Hall will permit high-rise construction only along Brand Boulevard, the central corridor of the redevelopment zone where the most recently built towers reach 20 and 22 stories.

Citing a conflict of interest, Tobian, who has been on the Planning Commission for six years, abstained from voting when the commission recommended that the Central Avenue limitations be rejected. The proposal was dropped in December, 1987 by a 3-2 vote of the City Council.

Two nine-story office developments have since been built on the east side of the 500 block of North Central Avenue, within the redevelopment zone, and are the tallest buildings on the street.

Tobian said his project fits the trend toward taller buildings downtown. "We are on a site that we would consider to be the gateway to the city of Glendale," he said, pointing out that the proposed development abuts the 18-story condominium development, built in the early 1980s.

However, he said private consultants are redesigning portions of the proposed development to quiet other criticisms, such as the need for a greater setback of buildings from streets and relocation of entryways and exits to a massive underground garage in order to reduce potential impacts on the neighborhood.

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