Opposition to Foothill project fills the room

CITY HALL — Growing community opposition to a three-story office building proposed for the former site of Foothill Builders & Hardware took its latest form Thursday, packing a design review hearing with more than 50 people, most of whom railed against the project.

They called the 42,453-square-foot design for 3522 Foothill Blvd. “giant,” “oversized,” “monumental in the extreme” and an “in-your-face insult” that had no business being built against a single-family neighborhood, or along a corridor of mostly single-story buildings.

It was the latest neighborhood salvo against the contentious project, which over the past few months has drawn increased ire from community activists who allege the building is being undersold to city commissioners in a bid to keep its massive scale intact.

On Sunday, police and fire authorities shut down a last-minute attempt by critics to use a rented boom lift to measure and photograph the proposed height of the building after their written requests to access the property were denied.

At the Design Review Board No. 2 hearing Thursday, public testimony from dozens of speakers spanned nearly three hours on the first of two alternate designs for the building, sending the review well into the night. The hearing had not concluded by press time.

Both designs, one contemporary, the other Mission-style, were roughly the same size and scale, and early on, there were indications that the board had strong reservations over the building’s third story — the flash point for neighborhood opposition.

“I don’t think this building understands where it is,” board member Mike Geragos said, adding that its blockish scale compared with its low-flung surroundings made it seem as if it were “dropped from outer space.”

No matter the length of time the project remains tied up with the Design Review Board, both sides have acknowledged that the proposal appears headed to the City Council on appeal no matter the final decision.

Mayor John Drayman and Councilman Frank Quintero were in the audience Thursday, listening as opponents to the project went through a litany of concerns over issues regarding intrusion of privacy, loss of views, harm to property values and even possible shade impacts to rooftop solar panels.

The site’s developer, Farshid Khosravi, defended the project as being 100% code-compliant, and admonished what he called a “vocal minority” for stoking opposition to the point “where it now outweighs my rights as a property owner.”

The entrenched positions of neighbors arguing against a code-compliant project as incompatible with the area while its developer cried foul appeared to revive the sort of property-rights debate that engrossed the City Council only two years ago as it set out to overhaul the design review process.

But those discussions centered on single-family home residential neighborhoods, not commercial zones that may abut them.

Even Thursday, the disparity in the codes governing the two areas was highlighted when board members were informed that privacy guidelines do not apply to commercial zones.

Stakeholders in the project have two weeks to file appeals on any of the decisions rendered at Thursday’s hearing.

 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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