Developer's plans must change

LA CRESCENTA — The developer behind a controversial mixed-use building slated for Foothill Boulevard will have to scale back plans for the development before construction can continue, officials said.

The planned three-story retail and office building in the 2600 block of Foothill Boulevard has drawn the ire of local residents who say excavation for its underground parking garage could harm a 100-year-old tree on an adjacent lot.

Crews have already cut several of the massive Moreton Bay Fig's limbs that were reaching onto the property, and residents are concerned that excavation will cause extensive damage to the tree's roots.

Those fighting the development scored a small victory Thursday when Los Angeles County officials confirmed that the development's plans inaccurately depicted the site's slope — a mistake first noted by a local resident.

County officials on Thursday halted grading work on the site and notified developer Gevorg Voskanian that work could not continue until the plans are revised and reapproved by county planners.

The planned building height will have to be reduced by as much as 8 feet in order to stay within the county's 35-foot limit, officials said.

On Friday, Voskanian said that he did not know what had caused the initial error, and that his architect would begin revising the plans.

"I don't know what the outcome of the architect work will be," he said.

Mike Lawler, president of the Historical Society of Crescenta Valley and an organizer of a vigil in front of the tree, said he is glad the changes are being mandated.

Still, he said he is worried the tree had already been irreparably harmed by the cut branches and excavation work.

"That's the downside of all of this," he said. "This all came too late."

County officials have said potential harm to the tree could not be taken into account since there are no laws protecting fig trees.

"That could happen regardless of whether or not the property is being developed," said Paul Novak, planning deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. "He has a legal right to trim those limbs whether he is developing or not."

It is unclear whether the mandated changes will require nixing the building's third story, Novak said.

"There's any number of ways that [the developer] could address that," he said.

Lawler took county officials to task for not working with the community before the project reached construction stage.

"A lot of this goes back to the idea that the county has not been showing the community plans ahead of time on coming developments like this," he said. "It's just a lack of transparency that has gotten the county in trouble here. They really need to communicate more with the community."

Officials from the Los Angeles County Office of Regional Planning, which approved the project, have said that because it did not require any zoning variances or use permits, public hearings and notification were not required.

Novak added that it is not a county policy to inform residents of projects that do not legally require public notification.

"It's something the county does not do anywhere in the unincorporated area, all 1.1 million residents," he said. "And frankly, we've heard from people who don't want that."

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