By Katta Hules
A proposed new home has caused a stir among residents on South Fifth Avenue. The two-story, 3,588-square-foot single-family residence would be built in an area populated with single-story ranch-style homes. The idea of another two-story house caused great concern for the neighborhood’s residents.
The problem came to the attention of this week’s city council meeting when the project’s neighbors appealed the planning commission’s decision to approve the design. Council Member April Verlato brought the appeal to the council’s attention because of the appellant’s “lack of ability to say yes they would agree to a two-story [design].”
The project on 1101 S. Fifth Ave started in 2014 according to designer Phillip Chan. It was put before the city in 2015 and rejected on the strength of neighbors’ complaints. The owner, WC Investment Inc., took these comments into the account and went back to the drawing board. The proposed house was reduced from 3,838 square feet to its current size of 3,588 square feet and the windows on the sides of the second story were eliminated for the neighbors’ privacy.
The new design complies with the recently approved floor-area-ratio (FAR) even though it was considered exempt. Chan was on the zoning commission and helped craft the FAR. “If we’re not going to look at the floor area ratio, why bother to have it?” He asked the council, “If we’re not going to look at the zoning code and see what’s allowed and what’s not, why bother to have the zoning code?”
Chan, a more than 20-year resident of Arcadia, worked with neighbors and Saving Arcadia to try to reach a compromise. “At one point, we can’t help but ask ourselves, what about my property right[s]? We have cut back and back. We have sacrificed time. What about my property right[s]?”
Several residents of South Fifth Avenue also spoke at the public hearing. Sherry Xi, the neighbor next door to the proposed house said there were 34 other residents opposed to the project due to loss of light and privacy. She pointed out 91 percent of the houses in the area were single-story. “Investors do not live in the houses. They don’t care much about destroying our streetscape, they don’t care much about people’s privacy, they don’t care much about our great environment.”
Another neighbor, Carol Ottaviano, cited Arcadia’s General Plan, design guidelines and land use regulations, saying the character of the neighborhood needed to be preserved. “The FAR is only one aspect that needs to be considered.” Karen Karasousa, who said the new house would block her northern light and mountain view concurred, “It’s a beautiful home but it just doesn’t fit.” Another long time resident dubbed new two-story homes like the project “white elephants.”
Verlato blamed the city’s building code for this conflict. “One of the problems with our code is that it incentivizes two-story houses because you get more square footage … [it] should be that we’re incentivizing single-story homes.” The house meets the building codes, which is why it was approved by the planning commission. “Our codes fail this street,” Verlato said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Peter Amundson was also on the side of the Fifth Avenue residents saying, the project “definitely does not conform with the street.”
Council Member Roger Chandler pointed out two-story homes were not illegal. “This ship has sailed a long time ago,” he said. “[The city] wasn’t ever meant to be locked in a time capsule [so] that every house built in Arcadia was going to be a new ranch style house.”
Council Member Sho Tay agreed, saying if they did not want two-story homes in Arcadia, they needed to put it in the rules. “We need to make it clear.”
Mayor Tom Beck was the tiebreaker, calling property discussions “the toughest decisions you make when you’re on the city council.” Though he was sympathetic to the project’s neighbors, as he lost his mountain view to a two-story house across the street, he pointed out the law was against them. “People do have the right to build a two-story home. This is not the first two-story home to go into that neighborhood.”
In a 3-2 vote, the planning commission’s decision was upheld on the conditions that the owner remove the windows on the north and south sides of the second floor, using skylights to provide light and ventilation as well as plant trees for privacy along the sides of the lot.
The next council meeting will be on Aug. 2 at 7 p.m.