Big Mixed Use Project Approved By Design Review Board

Image courtesy city of Glendale
The Design Review Board approved a three-building development at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Lowell Avenue last week. The project controversially makes use of a state exception to zoning code to allow for a taller building, though part of that height is subterranean.

The Design Review Board last week signaled unanimous approval of a three-building mixed use development that will total more than 37,000 square feet at the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Lowell Avenue.
The decision came in spite of objections from a large number of residents and workers, who mostly seemed to fixate on potential traffic issues and the perceived height of what, on paper, was a 51-foot-tall building in the proposal. The development will mostly be a residential complex with some commercial space, should the developer keep that office.
The nature of the project allowed the developer three exceptions to Glendale’s zoning codes, which once approved by the state are essentially baked into the design.

“I think that the applicant has done a good job trying to blend it better and breaking it into these two buildings, because the guidelines say, when it’s going to be larger than the buildings around it, break it up,” observed DRB chair Christopher Welch.
Among other reasons, because the complex will include five “very low-income” rental units, the state granted three allowances — having a 51-foot height for one of the three buildings, increasing lot coverage to 75% and reducing common outdoor space by 1,187 square feet.
In an oddity, the 51-foot building will, alongside the other two structures, appear to be shorter. Technically speaking, a building height starts at the base of the structure, not ground level, and the 51-foot building is placed at a lower elevation and includes two parking levels, one of which is subterranean. Additionally, a storage unit adjacent to the property will partially obscure the sightline of the exposed parking level from the street.
“When it’s viewed from Lowell Avenue, it’s only a three-story building,” architect Hamlet Zohrabians said last week.
“The site’s location, adjacent to a wide roadway, provides extra visual space around the building which, combined with the site’s topography, appropriately reduces potential overwhelming building mass at both facades,” Milca Toledo, a senior planner with the city, told the DRB.
The project also was exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review because it is an infill development — it adds to unused portions of that parcel. The state awarded the exceptions to the project last March and there were no appeals filed against them, essentially limiting the DRB to evaluating design guidelines and neighborhood fit.
“These granted concessions are, from the state of California’s point of view, rightful concessions in the design process that the applicant can ask for and receive,” said DRB member Art Simonian, addressing calls to reject or challenge the exceptions. “To do otherwise or to not allow it is disingenuous and can open the city of Glendale up to litigation.”
In that, the DRB members felt Zohrabians did a thoughtful job, especially in how he treated a large amount of square footage.
“I think he’s articulated it in such a way that is appropriate and in keeping with the spirit of the guidelines,” Welch said. “We can’t do very much about the exceptions that were granted.”
DRB member Francesca Smith lauded the architect for basing the design on what the guidelines for that neighborhood called for — “Which, as long as I’ve been here has been unheard of, almost,” she quipped — but added that the color and material choices made it “almost institutional in its flavor.”
“I think by using materials that are a bit more rustic, it might fit into that neighborhood better,” she said, adding that the plan for that area calls for warmer and natural colors on buildings.
The DRB also emphasized that traffic conditions are not under their purview and legally the body cannot demand more traffic studies or even factor traffic into a decision. Foothill remains a main artery for the area and an In-N-Out just across the city line often contributes to traffic congestion there.
Zohrabians said the two driveways to the buildings already exist along Foothill and that he plans to close off a driveway on Lowell, which is a smaller street.
“The two driveways that we’re talking about — facing Foothill Boulevard — they’re existing” already, he said, adding that the childcare center on the property now creates a similar impact to what is projected. “We’re not opening up any new driveways…so there’s not going to be any new impact.”
The DRB approved the project 5-0 with a number of conditions, including placing an emphasis — such as canopies — at the residential entryways, screening mechanical equipment away from street view and make consistent a number of design touches. Smith successfully added a condition to adhere to the guidelines on colors, but received pushback when suggesting lowering roof pitches to help improve the massing.