HomeCity NewsDespite Appeal, La Cañada Flintridge OKs Green Lane Project

Despite Appeal, La Cañada Flintridge OKs Green Lane Project

After months of deliberation by the La Cañada Flintridge Planning Commission and an appeal from residents, the housing development of a residence on Green Lane has been greenlit by the City Council.
The project — a new 6,745 square-foot, two-story residence — was approved by the planning commission on Jan. 11 this year, before property owners on Green Lane filed an appeal contesting construction on Jan. 26.
The proposal involves demolishing the existing home, garage, swimming pool and pool house, and constructing a new two-story residence with a partially exposed lower/third level and an attached three-car garage.
An accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, is proposed at the lower level, where the new home would present as three stories to the rear, but the ADU is subject to a ministerial approval and was not considered during the April 2 City Council review. However, due to the inclusion of the ADU, there are two dwelling units as part of the project, and, therefore, the project is subject to the Housing Accountability Act, a state mandate that limits city’s ability to deny a project that complies with local zoning ordinances.
The City Council ultimately denied the appeal and approved the project with a few changes to the design and landscape plan. City Planner Chris Gjolme gave the staff report for the project to the City Council on Tuesday.
“The project was reviewed by the planning commission on three occasions on Oct. 12 and Dec. 14 [of last year], and finally [on] Jan. 11, 2024, at which time the project was unanimously approved by the commission,” said Gjolme.
Gjolme outlined the proposed project’s design, which was included in the city staff report. The presentation included renderings of the project’s floor area, size of the house and potential setbacks. Gjolme also compared the project to other houses in the neighborhood that have a tennis court or is a two-story residence.
“For the purposes of our review of the project again, we’ve highlighted the project site and have identified that within approximately 800 feet of the site, there are 13 other two-story residences in this general neighborhood,” said Gjolme. “The point being that the precedent of two-story construction in this neighborhood was realized quite long ago, and there are a number of two-story houses in this neighborhood.”
Gjolme then hit on the points of appeal, which stated that the project was not compatible with the character of the neighborhood, the project design was not compatible with the city’s single-family residential design guidelines adopted in 2006, and that the project violates the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, or CC&Rs, of the neighborhood.
Gjolme said that, after considering the floor area, the size of the home and setbacks, “this project complies with all of the requirements, all of the objective requirements that are contained within the city’s zoning code.”
The style of the home was also in question, and Gjolme said that the planning commission did apply the design guidelines for the project, “and we worked with the applicant quite extensively in altering and changing the design of the house to the point where we felt comfortable with it, and we believe that it was consistent with the design guidelines.”
City Attorney Adrian Guerra addressed the third point of the appeal — the CC&R compliance.
“In my 15 years of working with the planning department, the city has historically never enforced CC&Rs, those are private agreements between the property owners,” said Guerra. “In the eight-plus cities I’ve worked with in my 20-plus years, cities do not enforce CC&Rs. … From a legal standpoint, we don’t even have legal standing to enforce in court.”
The appellant, Susanne Whatley, was then given the opportunity to state her case to the City Council. Whatley started off by saying that she was speaking on behalf of 44 neighbors who support the appeal.
The appeal team showed examples of how the project would look on Green Lane, reiterating that it would not fit the character of the neighborhood.
“We believe our presentation this evening has clearly stated our case that the proposed project does not preserve the existing scale and character of our neighborhood, and that the plans approved by the planning commission are not consistent with the La Cañada Flintridge single-family home residential guidelines,” she said.
The applicant, Edward Adzhemyan, had the chance to talk about the project and said that he followed the zoning codes, adding that CC&Rs are limiting and conflict with what the city allows for projects.
“It is imperative that our decisions are guided by principles of fairness inclusivity and evolving dynamics of our neighborhood,” said Adzhemyan. “We will be a great addition to the neighborhood. We do follow all the zoning codes [and] the design guidelines.”
He concluded by saying that he is excited to be a part of the neighborhood and discussed how he was able to work with the planning commission to update the design.
A series of public commenters followed and shared their opinions, most coming from the Green Lane neighborhood opposing the project.
“We want to say on record that we have significant concerns about the proposed Green Lane project,” said Green Lane resident Tim Raney. “We request that the project is not allowed to go forward in its current form. We recognize that the project is compliant with the zoning code, but we believe the plan is not sufficiently considering the character of the neighborhood, nor the harmful impacts on immediate neighbors.”
Raney touched on the landscaping of the property and the covenants, conditions and restrictions.
“The homeowner is aware of the covenants, conditions and restrictions which limit the house to a single story, but it’s proceeding anyway with a three-level structure,” said Raney. “We appreciate the homeowner’s attempt at a landscape plan that ensures privacy between our yards. We would like guarantees that they will indeed execute their plan if they’re allowed to proceed, and that the trees and shrubs can legitimately fit and thrive in the space marked out for them.”
Although there was a group of people present to support the applicant, only one public commenter spoke in favor of the project. LCF resident Dan Khatchaturian said he felt compelled to speak and support the applicant after hearing about it and said that the project is up to code.
“This project adds value to our homes,” said Khatchaturian. “I’m an advocate of private property rights. It’s his property. If people were so against it, they could have gotten together and purchased it and kept it what it is. Many of the neighbors — who are not here tonight — have no problem with the proposed development.”
The City Council then had its chance to speak on the matter. Each of the members agreed that the project was following the city’s zoning code, that is fit the character of the neighborhood after revisions from the planning commission and that they are not able to deny a project with an ADU, due to the Housing Accountability Act.
Councilwoman Terry Walker spearheaded the conversation and said that she is impressed and thankful that the designers came forward with a fully compliant project.
“It’s not a win-win situation, somebody always goes away unhappy, and we have to do the best we can to make the right decision and fair decision,” said Walker. “Different people view it differently, and it makes it very difficult on us.”
Walker clarified that the zoning code and city guidelines are in place so that projects are constructed correctly.
“And some people in here asked, ‘Well, where does it stop? They can build whatever they want. Where does it stop?’ It stops with the zoning, it stops with the height requirements, it stops with the side, front, back and rear easements,” said Walker. “So, there are very strict rules.”
She raised two concerns related to the second-floor balcony and the landscaping plan, which the Council agreed with. The Council discussed privacy issues related to the proposed project’s second-floor balcony.
“The numbers are completely compliant,” said Councilman Kim Bowman. “So, from the question of whether or not this is a zoning issue, the answer is, ‘no.’ … It presents as a compliant project. The numbers are right. The question as to whether or not a CC&R is suitable is not one for this room. This isn’t the space where we do CC&Rs.”
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Davitt thanked everyone for their comments on the project and said that it is difficult to deny a project that is up to code.
Mayor Rick Gunter agreed with his fellow City Councilmembers and clarified that the project can’t be built until a landscaping plan is approved. The Council approved the project with a few design contingencies.
“So, the conditions would be to omit the two … balconies at the second floor, reduce the middle half to project no farther than the face of the joining wall,” said Gutner. “And then the second condition [is that] the landscape plan must be approved by the director of Community Development before getting a permit.”

First published in the April 4 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.


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