Glendale City Council bets big on families in new downtown building rules

Glendale City Council passed a revised version of its Downtown Specific Plan just days after a moratorium on building in the area expired. The hope is the city can better control future development.

All new residential developments in downtown Glendale must offer a certain percentage of multibedroom units, according to a vote by City Council this week, as officials bet the requirement meant to encourage more families to live in the area won’t chill the market.

Passed unanimously by council members on Tuesday as part of a larger set of revised building regulations in the city’s Downtown Specific Plan, all projects will need to include two and three bedrooms as 20% of their unit mix.

Developers seeking to build more densely will be required to bump up the percentage of what city staff calls diversity-in-housing units to as high as 40%.

“We can always ease up if need be,” Councilman Ara Najarian said of the new rules now in effect. “If we start hearing from developers screaming, ‘You’ve robbed me, this is a taking, we can’t build anything,’” then I would reassess my position.”

City staff warned that the percentage requirements could limit the city’s ability to uphold other aspects of the revised building rules, including imposing stricter design standards and asking developers to include open space, public art, sustainable infrastructure and other community benefits in their projects.

That’s because developers might be motivated to seek concessions and waivers in exchange for offering a certain number of affordable units through a state density-bonus law, according to Bradley Calvert, the city’s assistant director of community development

It could still lead to fewer affordable housing units, because fewer units, overall, will be built, according to a staff report.

“It becomes a trade-off,” Calvert said. Speaking for the staff, Calvert recommended lowering the percentages for higher-density projects and removing the requirement altogether for projects that don’t request any additional density.

Asking developers to use better building materials and offer communitywide perks costs money — something developers will have less of because the diverse-unit requirement will ultimately reduce the number of units per project, thereby lowering the development’s return, Calvert said.

Glendale’s demographics don’t seem to support the requirement either, according to staff.

The number of households with children has been decreasing since 2010, mirroring a national trend, according to a supplement to the staff reports that was compiled based on U.S. Census data.

Around 25.3% of Glendale households citywide have individuals under 18 years old living in them, trailing the national average of 30%, the report showed.

“Essentially, that would be asking our downtown to outperform our city, in terms of attracting households that may have children in them,” Calvert said.

Councilmen Vartan Gharpetian and Vrej Agajanian rejected the reasoning, arguing that demographics could shift in the near future.

Najarian suggested a reverse-reading of the data — that families aren’t coming to the city because the available housing doesn’t support them.

On the fence about the diverse-unit requirements in light of staff members’ findings, Councilwoman Paula Devine and Mayor Zareh Sinanyan went along with them on the condition that the ordinance be revisited in about a year.

The council’s “assumptions could very well be correct,” Calvert said after the meeting, adding that demographics do change and economic analysis is tied to fluctuating data.

The impetus to revise the Downtown Specific Plan arose last year in response to complaints that projects being constructed in the downtown area were unsightly and shut out public activity on the street level. Those complaints led to a moratorium adopted last spring to block all development in the area.

Saturday marked the expiration of the moratorium, giving council an incentive to act quickly to adopt the revised rules — to shape the next crop of proposed projects.

Four chapters of the existing plan were completely overhauled and significantly expanded, and guidelines were changed to enforceable standards whenever possible, Vilia Zemaitaitis, the city’s principal planner, said last month.

Current density and floor-area ratio restrictions will remain in place, but story requirements were removed.

In two areas, Broadway Center A and Orange Central, the height limit increased from 185 feet to 245 feet. Broadway Center A is located east of Central Avenue, between Wilson Avenue and Broadway. Orange Central is located between Central and Orange Street and Doran Street and Wilson.

Twitter: @lila_seidman