Zoning issue returns to dais

CITY HALL — The future of zoning variances in most residential areas comes down to a City Council vote tonight on two competing ordinances.

On one end is an ordinance that would ban property owners from applying to build something other than what is allowed in single-family and low-density residential zones. On the other is a proposal to maintain the current policy of allowing exemptions, with the exception of diverting applications straight to the Planning Commission rather than the city zoning administrator.

Tonight, the dueling ordinances battle it out for four votes on the dais — the threshold for changing zoning regulations — an uneasy task considering that two council members in December supported allowing for zoning-use variances, with the other three for the prohibition.

That same dissension led to a split vote Dec. 9 even to postpone the matter, setting up a divisive debate over a proposed change to the process that Councilman Bob Yousefian called “political pandering.”

“No one proved it was detrimental,” he said, citing the 10 use-variance applications granted in the past eight years, including minor commercial property variations or allowing existing nonconforming businesses to carry on.

But the city’s homeowners associations have begged to differ, pushing for an all-out ban on zoning exceptions to mirror the practices in Burbank, Pasadena and Long Beach.

Very few cities beyond Glendale allow for the zoning exceptions, according to a city report.

“Use variances are a way to get around zoning,” said resident Laurie Collins, who was thrust into the spotlight in 2007 as a vocal opponent to a homeowner’s bid to convert the house to an office.

Owners of the property at 702 E. Glenoaks Blvd. initially sought to join an adjacent commercial zone, but when that failed, they applied for a zoning-use variance.

The application was turned down and appealed by the zoning administrator and then the Planning Commission before it was withdrawn under heavy community opposition.

Yousefian, together with Councilman Ara Najarian, argued in December that the experience proved the system was working properly, but homeowner groups have been steadfast in pushing the ban.

Both versions up for consideration tonight would send applications for use variances directly to the Planning Commission, bypassing the city zoning administrator.

The potential ban would prohibit all future use-variance applications in open-space, low-density and single-family residential zones. They would still be allowed in commercial and multifamily dwelling zones.

If convictions on the dais have held strong since Dec. 9, either Najarian or Yousefian would have to break ranks for the use-variance ban to gain a supermajority and pass.

The City Council will consider both ordinances at 6 tonight in the council chambers at City Hall, 613 E. Broadway.

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