Escrow office to be tossed out

La Cañada Flintridge’s Downtown Village specific plan is intended to drum up business and shoppers walking along Foothill Boulevard, but for California Executive Escrow at 707 Foothill Blvd., it means eviction.

The plan designates that ground-floor spaces in that zone be used only for retail or real estate offices, and on Monday the City Council declined to make an exception for Rafik and Daniel Khatchaturian, the owners of 707 Foothill Blvd., which also houses the women’s retail shop, Chico’s.

The council declined a proposed change to the ordinance to give escrow offices the same exemption given to other businesses. It also denied approval of a conditional use permit for the California Executive Escrow office, which has been in its current location for a year.

Daniel Khatchaturian said that the city isn’t acting evenhandedly in its enforcement of the specific plan.

“I think it’s unfair to us, because we are competing with other similar commercial buildings that are able to lease [to non-retail tenants],” said Khatchaturian.

Khatchaturian cited the former MacGregor Realty building at 845 Foothill Blvd. and the La Cañada Valley Sun building at 727 Foothill Blvd. as examples of exceptions to the rules.

“People that have political clout in this city were able to get exemptions for their building while the little guy suffers,” said Khatchaturian.

Jeanne Harris, who co-owns California Executive Escrow with Cheryl Pitt, said she agreed with Khatchaturian’s assertion that the decision was unfair.

“We’re very disappointed at moving, because it was an ideal location for our business,” said Harris. “The company is staying open, but the question is the location we will have to move to.”

Harris said she was surprised by the council’s stance because California Executive Escrow had previously been nearby with no problems.

“We’ve done business on the ground floor level in commercial area of La Cañada for 20 years,” said Harris. “We previously were at 827 Foothill Boulevard, we operated there from 1990 to 2010.”

Councilmember Laura Olhasso said it was simply a matter of the city wanting to stick to its rules.

“The majority of the council felt it was important to try and keep that retail on the bottom floor,” said Olhasso. “We’re trying to stay true to the Downtown Village Specific Plan.”

Olhasso said that the specific plan had been subject to extensive input from the community before it was put into place in 2000, and unless it is brought up for review, it will stand as is.

“We needed to stay consistent with the plan,” said Olhasso. “Until we take time to review it, we need to not mess with it.”

Pat Anderson, president of the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said that she supports the council’s decision because it will encourage a better business environment in the long run.

“The Chamber always encourages retail development,” said Anderson. “If you go around with interim exceptions, it actually undermines the value of the [plan].”

Anderson said that with the city’s vacancy rate down to 4.3% from 7% earlier this year, it seems likely that Khatchaturian will be able to fill the space.

Khatchaturian isn’t as hopeful. He said that Chico’s declined to expand into the space, and that the only interested potential renters he had so far were not retailers.

“I would prefer to have retail or restaurants on the ground floor also, however due to the state of economy, shrinking retail, and the fact that I have small retail space available and its limited visibility, I have not been able to attract any retailers,” said Khatchaturian.

Khatchaturian said that he understands the intent of the specific plan, but thinks it is counterproductive.

“I think the Downtown Village Specific Plan is a great idea in paper, but what we have in reality is something entirely different,” said Khatchaturian. “[The council] wants a pedestrian-friendly walkway from the Sport Chalet to Vons. I doubt anyone parks their car at Sport Chalet and walks to Vons to buy their groceries — it just doesn’t happen.”

Still, he said that as a La Cañada resident, he hopes to find a new tenant.

“It isn’t fair, but we need to move forward,” said Khatchaturian. “It hurts, because we love this city, we love the community.”

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