Zoning Concerns Emerge in Debate Over Proposed Project

The La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission’s deliberation over a proposed three-story structure at 600 Foothill Blvd. will continue next month after commissioners balked at making any decision regarding the development at a special virtual meeting last week.

What began as a July 29 discussion about the project that would include 47 active senior housing units, 12 non-serviced hotel units, 7,600 square feet of office uses and 107 underground parking spaces became a dialogue about the city’s General Plan and Zoning Code, and the panel ultimately decided to adjourn and pick up the conversation on Thursday, Sept. 2, at 6 p.m.

The commission suggested it was best to establish its requirements for mixed-use structures in the Downtown Village Specific Plan rather than having a specific project dictate amendments to the General Plan and Zoning Code.

The development plan for the 1.29-acre parcel, the former site of the Christian Science church, does not meet the city’s current Zoning Code and would require a modification to the DVSP by changing the site from an institutional zone to a new mixed-use 3 zone, a move that the city staff supports.

The commissioners said it would be prudent to define the parameters for MU-3 zones as well as evaluate requirements for other zones.

“It is going to raise its head in other places,” Commissioner Mike Hazen said regarding MU-3 zones. “We better get this right.”

The modification of the DVSP could affect the zoning of current structures, and Commissioner Mark Kindhouse felt it was difficult to come to a decision about the proposed project without having a clear understanding of the possible environmental impacts of such a change.

“We can’t just offer it out there for others to try and go through this process again,” Kindhouse said. “There needs to be an analysis of where MU-3 fits.”

He also asked staff to provide specifics regarding the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, a process involving the California Department of Housing and Community Development that projects how many dwellings are needed in the state. The city held a workshop informing the community about the update to the Housing Element of the General Plan on June 10. La Cañada Flintridge is expected to show that it can provide 612 residential units, though that does not necessarily mean they would be built.

Commissioner Jeffrey McConnell agreed with Kindhouse and said that the timing for the proposal is unfortunate.

“I wish this applicant had not submitted this project when they did and had waited until we completed our RNHA and Zoning Code update,” McConnell said in response to Kindhouse’s concerns. “They jumped the gun. They have put us in a position where they are writing rules very similar to many of the rules that we are proposing.

“We’re not going to be writing rules like this again and again and again for every project that comes through. That’s a very different conversation. I think the community has rightfully said, ‘Look, you gotta write the rules separate and apart from what the project is.’”

Applicant Garret Weyand of 600 Foothill Owner LP commended the panel for a “thoughtful meeting” about a “very difficult project” and said he believes that his project fits everything that was discussed by the commissioners, and more.

Several community members, however, disagree and wrote their disapproval to city staff. Some residents said the project is too large and others asked that the city further investigate how it would impact the area, especially with regard to traffic. Hazen asked the staff to explore other options concerning the designated passenger drop-off area that would be on Foothill Boulevard.

“Something safer than what’s proposed really needs to be done,” he said. “I’d still like to see the investigation on their property for the drop-off and not encumber the streets.”

In other business, the panel approved the elevation of Henry Oh to commission chair and McConnell to vice chair.