Council eyes stalled projects

La Cañada Flintridge City Council members are considering an urgency ordinance that would extend building permits for construction projects that have faced delays or work stoppage, but would establish an expedited timeline for their completion.

A analysis of expired building permits turned up at least four homes that have remained unfinished despite city deadlines, said Community Development Director Robert Stanley.

One such home is a massive, half-completed structure at 1246 El Vago St. that began construction in 2007 but has sat dormant for many months.

Owner Karapet Setoyan recently told council members that turbulence in the housing market resulted in a loss of funding to continue the project. He hopes permit extensions would help him sell the house to a new owner who would be able to complete it.

"I'm a victim of this market. I lost my house; I lost my money," said Setoyan, who razed a one-story home that previously stood on the lot. "It benefits the city and the neighbors for someone to buy it."

Neighbors who spoke to the Valley Sun said the worksite, which according to city prosecutors has been cited for numerous code violations, is an eyesore. Citations have included leaving the structure in a partial state of construction as well as for idle equipment and construction waste that once cluttered the site.

"It's ugly," complained one neighbor who said the site has been neglected for what seemed like two years.

Another neighbor who had recently toured the site said she'd simply like to see the project sold and finished — which council members say is their exact intent for an ordinance affecting this and other projects.

"We're out to minimize what might be construed as blight, but we've also done a series of business-friendly things in this city over the last year or two because of the economic situation and are sensitive to builders who, for whatever reason, have not been able to get their projects over the finish line. But at the same time, we want to maintain the integrity of our ordinances," said Mayor Donald Voss.

Council members may vote on an urgency ordinance as early as Nov. 15.

Voss said any extension granted on top of the city's existing one-year extension option should come with a requirement to complete projects on an accelerated timeline.

"We'd want to make sure there's a short string on this. We want to see some real progress," he said.

If an ordinance is passed, the city should review circumstances surrounding each project as it weighs whether an extension should be granted, said Councilman Gregory Brown.

"For those that truly have had hardships that were beyond their control, clearly we want to do what we can to not have partially completed buildings or remodels around town. The problem is sorting out [economic hardship cases] from situations where other factors may have come into play," said Brown. "Ultimately we have to make sure we can sort out the wheat from the chaff."

Stanley said it is unclear how many projects are at risk of remaining incomplete when current building permits expire.

Despite the economic downturn, building-permit applications in La Cañada Flintridge appear to be increasing rather than decreasing, he said.

Permits for construction, repair or remodeling numbered 221 in 2008 and 308 in 2009, and are being filed this year on a pace to meet or beat last year.

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