Design board denies dealership expansion plan

CITY HALL — Increased setbacks, extra landscaping and $1 million worth of solar panels were not enough to convince Design Review Board No. 1 that a proposed expansion of a La Crescenta car dealership would be appropriate for the neighborhood.

The board on Thursday denied Bob Smith Toyota's third attempt at design approval for a proposed 69,300-square-foot, three-story structure that would replace the one-story sales building that now sits in the middle of a parking lot.

Largely because the Foothill Boulevard property straddles a residential zone to the south, the project has pitted the dealership against neighbors who say the new building would rob their mountain views, boost traffic and worsen air quality.

And while the proposed project is designed to be four feet beneath the 50-foot height maximum allowed in the area, the board has repeatedly encouraged project architect Dave Szany to eliminate the third floor to minimize the visual impact on neighbors.

“Every meeting we had, we made the same comments we had today, and [the project] always comes back with tweaks, but essentially the project has always been the same,” board member Giuseppe Aliano said.

Szany said removing the third story by lowering the structure underground would require the dealership to close for up to a year during construction and possibly run his clients out of business.

Instead, Szany pitched a new design that scaled a portion of the structure's third story back 200 feet from the rear and added landscaping on the newly exposed portion of the second story.

The plan, which was meant to minimize the impact on neighbors' views and access to sunlight, eliminated about 8,000 square feet of the previously proposed structure, Szany said.

Supporters of the project who turned out Thursday to counter criticism from neighbors touted Bob Smith Toyota as a community-focused business that needs to expand in order to stay competitive in the regional auto market.

“In my opinion, they have met everything that they need to have this building project done,” said La Crescenta resident Kathleen Snashall. “They haven't gone above something that they're not allowed to do .?.?. but if anything, there should be some responsibility on people buying properties near Bob Smith Toyota to find out what is allowed to be built in their area.”

The board welcomed praise of the dealership, but ultimately focused on a structure they said appeared too massive.

In their decision, the board directed the dealership to further scale back the third story from the south, alter or move the solar panel infrastructure so that it doesn't add to the building height and make the front of the structure look more like a commercial facade than a parking structure.

Szany said he would discuss the suggestions with the dealership and potentially incorporate them into another design, but the board's wishes may be out of reach, he said.

“There's a lot of things I can do, but what I have to do is sit down with my client,” he said. “.?.?.?. If it does change their program too greatly, it may not be possible to build this building.”

The dealership could also appeal the decision to the Alternative Assessment Panel, but would have to file such an appeal within seven days of the decision.


?RYAN VAILLANCOURT covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at ryan.vaillancourt@latimes.com.

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