Planning Commission denies proposed gym at Chamlian Armenian School

The Planning Commission on Wednesday denied permits for a new 9,345-square-foot gym at Chamlian Armenian School after a dozen neighbors argued the addition would be intrusive.

School officials want to construct the 35-foot-tall gymnasium — which would include a sports court, lobby, two locker rooms, bathrooms and laundry facilities — near the east perimeter of the lot at 4444 Lowell Ave. just south of Foothill Boulevard in La Crescenta.

No changes to existing driveways were proposed. But there are plans for a 61-space parking lot, a number that is well below the 148 spaces required for a development of this size, prompting the school's request for a zoning exception.

Planning officials had recommended that the commission approve the project, since activities that currently take place outside in the school yard would be moved farther away from adjacent homes or be relocated inside the new facility.

"The proposed project will not result in significant additional traffic on streets in the area," city planner Roger Kiesel said. "The gymnasium will not generate air pollution. It would be an unnecessary hardship to deny the construction of the proposed gymnasium, given that the school has been located on the site for the past 50 years."

But neighbors opposing the gym said it would exacerbate existing problems at and around the school site, especially traffic and parking congestion.

"I really feel the parking would be an issue," said Jewel McKeever, who lives near the school. "I know when you have different events, it is not just the people who attend the school, but you do have guests who come."

Maria Muriello, a neighbor and long-time realtor in La Crescenta, said the project would impede views and disrupt the serenity of the neighborhood, impacting property values in the area.

"I would request also that the commission would notice we have a petition signed by 47 neighbors that are opposed to these variances due to the fact that it will harm our neighborhood," neighbor Joanie Larson said.

The 4 1/2-acre school site currently includes an administration building, a multi-purpose building, a dining hall and classrooms.

The primary purpose of the new gym will be to provide a place for children to play on exceptionally hot, cold or wet days, said consultant Rodney Kahn, who represented the school on the project. The new facility would not change the number of students enrolled at the school or the number of classes, he said.

"It will upgrade this campus and it will provide a well-deserved amenity to the children who go to this school from our community," Kahn said.

School officials took pains to communicate with neighbors, hosting a community meeting in July to discuss the plans, Kahn said. Seven residents attended, he added.

Commissioner Erik Yesayan agreed with planners and Chamlian Armenian School representatives, but other commissioners disagreed in the 3-1 vote to deny the project. Commissioner Chang Lee was absent.

"The concern I have is that we have continually benefited the school to the disadvantage of the neighborhood," Planning Commissioner Stephanie Landregan said. "Each variance intensifies that impact on the neighborhood without any mitigation."

The school is expected to appeal the decision to the City Council.

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