Monday, June 29, 2015

Join us on a trip...

On a night with an unusually light agenda...earlier this month, the Planning Commission approved a three unit apartment complex at 1414 South Alta Vista Avenue.  The end.

Is that all there is?  

Well, no, of course know there's always more to the story.  So really this is just the beginning...well not quite the beginning, but close enough...

For those of you that have been following us for a while, last year we picked a project we were going to feature from beginning to end, start to finish or a term that many Planners use: cradle to grave.  That project lost a little momentum, so we've switched gears and and projects which brings us to 1414 South Alta Vista Avenue.

Projects start with a concept.  Often a sketch, not more than a doodle.  Yes, sometimes even on the back of a napkin.  

Enter the Planner.  We take that idea, and work with the applicant..over the make sure they understand the parameters of what the zoning allows.  

Over the next few weeks, there's often some back and forth until a the site plan is finalized.  

Then starts the building design.  

There's a lot of talented people that we work with; proposals come in with just a few tweaks and off they go.  But the ones we really enjoy need a little more massaging.  Getting our creative juices flowing to get to them to the point where the application is ready to be submitted.  

While it may seem that the Development Review Committee (DRC), Planning Commission and/or the City Council approve every project that comes before them, their collective track record is deceiving.  

If projects were getting denied right and left, then we, as City staff, are not doing our job.  Our philosophy is to get the applicant to "yes", if we don't think that's likely, then we want to communicate that from the start before a lot of time, energy and money are wasted.  That's counterproductive for everyone.

Ultimately, it's the property owner or applicant who makes the choice to go forward and the approving body that approves or denies the proposal.

So back to South Alta Vista...based on the recommendation of Staff and DRC, the Planning Commission approved the project.  So now they move from the entitlement phase (that is their Planning/zoning approvals) to the pre-construction phase.  Preparing their construction documents moving toward the issuance of a building permit.

Stay tuned as we travel through the development process.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

June 24th Development Review Committee

Give me a D!  Give me an R!  Give me a C!  What does that spell!?  Monrovia's Development Review Committee!!  Rah! Rah! Rah!

As you may have noticed, we are pretty peppy today.  Maybe it's because of all of the excellent work going on in this City.  Or maybe it's that extra cup of coffee we had.  Either way, we are all set to tell you about the most recent DRC meeting on Wednesday, June 24th.

There were five items on the agenda this time.  First up was a minor exception request for an addition at 249 Madeline Drive.  The property owners are looking into expanding their floor area for a larger kitchen and bedroom.  Now, this property is a good example of a house that is subject to BOTH of our current moratoria.  Because it was built prior to 1940, no changes can be made on the front 50% of the exterior of the house.  Additionally, because it is located in a single family zone (Residential Low Density), a second story cannot be added.  In order to accommodate the addition, two minor exceptions were approved.  One to allow the existing wall on the south side of the house to continue back, even though it is less than the required 5 feet from the property line.  The second allowed the minimum backup from the garage to be reduced from the required 25 feet, provided that the angle allows cars to maneuver in and out of the garage.

Second was another minor exception, this time to reduce the back yard setback to 16 feet from the required 20 feet at 935 Crescent Drive.  The facts (just the facts, ma'am) presented to the DRC included that the house is in the RL zone, so a second story addition cannot be considered; it is on a corner lot; and the neighbor to the rear is at a higher grade.  Additionally, the design was well thought out.  The addition will provide more living space, additional landscaping, and a more easily accessible garage.  DRC approved this request as well.

Next, DRC looked at two new signs.  The first one was at 309 Genoa Street, for Swallow Design, a photography studio that is actually located in a residential zone.  Staff worked with the applicant to make sure that the sign was not too big, bright or distracting to the neighborhood.  DRC looked favorably on those efforts and gave the sign their approval.  The other sign was for 672 Huntington Drive in the Huntington Oaks shopping center.  Who likes BBQ?  I hope there are a few of you out there that do because Jimmy John's is coming to Monrovia.  And now that the DRC approved their sign, you'll be able to find them!

Speaking of food, the final item on the DRC agenda was for a new hot dog cart at Home Depot.  Perfect for hungry summer DIYers who are improving their homes!  DRC approved this item - and even had a few ideas for the menu!  Hotdogs - yum!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Lawn, lawn go away...

Just when we're starting to put those "tough economic times" behind us.  Now, it's the worst drought since...well...a long long time ago.  So, to paraphrase that old saying, when life gives you cactus...plant it.

We're the first to admit--we like our lawns.  Nothing says summer like walking barefoot on cool grass.  But, we're realists and this drought is severe.  And kudos to us, Monrovia, we've taken that to heart and are making real changes and saving water.  We can and will do more.  Check out the City's website for information and resources.  

Several months ago, our friends at MonroviaNow floated the idea of recognizing drought tolerant landscaping.  Great idea!  

Most of your Community Development staff spend a good deal of time "out in the field" doing site visits, inspections or just keeping up to date on what's going on out there.  We're happy to report--there's lots of good stuff, including xeriscaping (a fancy-shmancy word for landscaping that doesn't require much water).  

So here's our first feature in what we plan to be an on going series of examples throughout Monrovia.  Not only did the result turn out great, but the transformation is phenomenal.    If you're driving down the 800 block of Wildrose Avenue, take a look!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Latest Development Review Committee Meeting

We thought that now might be a good time to remind our loyal readers what the job of the Development Review Committee and of Planning in general is.  Our jobs revolve around zoning and land use, as spelled out in the Monrovia Municipal Code (i.e., the document that holds the answers to all of life's mysteries).  Some of the questions we ask ourselves are:  "Is this use appropriate?"  "How does this fit with the neighborhood?"  And especially, "What does the Code say?"

The DRC meeting on June 10th had four items on the agenda. The first item up was a review of a front yard fence at 837 Crescent.  This applicant was requesting a 4 foot fence on top of an existing 2 foot stone retaining wall, making the overall height of the structure 6 feet (measurements are always taken from the lowest adjacent grade).  So, the question you might be asking yourself right now is: "What does the Code say?"  And here's the answer.  Our beloved Code says that in a front yard, a residence can have a 3 foot solid wall or fence or a 4 foot wall or fence that is at least 50% open.  The reasoning behind this is two-fold.  First, tall fences in the front yard could obstruct sightlines, which could be dangerous to drivers, pedestrians, and other street users.  Second, it creates a certain amount of uniformity so that our neighborhoods appear cohesive.  In this case, the DRC granted the exception to the height requirement, with the conditions that the new fence is aesthetically pleasing and at least 50% open.

Second up was another fence!  The exclamation point is meant to convey excitement, by they way.  The Monrovia Tennis Club, at 158 North Sunset, was requesting a 6 foot solid vinyl fence with 1 foot of lattice on top, for an overall height of 7 feet in the side yard.  At this point, you may be wondering about height limits in the side yard.  Say it with me folks, "What does the Code say?"  Our revered Code says that a side yard fence cannot be taller than 6 feet as measured from the neighbor's grade.  We guess that sometimes those tennis balls tend to bounce pretty high out of bounds.  Since the neighbor came to the meeting to express his support for a tall fence, this item was approved by the DRC.

Third item - a Conditional Use Permit for the new Merengue at 417 South Myrtle to serve alcohol, both indoors and outdoors.  What does the Code say about this?  The Code, in its infinite wisdom states that the Planning Commission has to make the final decision for a CUP, and so this item was forwarded on to the Planning Commission with a recommendation of approval.  The DRC also reviewed the floor plan, outdoor furnishings and outdoor delineator.  These elements were approved by the DRC.  Looks like we are one step closer to having Merengue back!

Finally, the DRC reviewed a Conditional Use Permit for a drive thru Starbucks at 860 West Foothill.  Since we already know what the Code says about CUPs, I bet you can guess how this one turned out.  That's right, it  was also forwarded on to the Planning Commission with a recommendation of approval.  See some of the renderings below!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ordinance No. 2015-03

How's that for a catchy headline?

Sometimes the inspiration just flows...and...well...this is not one of those times. 

So here's the skinny...Several years ago, we were hearing a lot of concerns that Old Town was loosing some of the diversity in the variety of businesses that were opening.

Specifically, people were worried that what was occurring in one of our neighboring city's downtown could happen in Old Town.  The issue in this city's downtown, which will remain nameless, was becoming over concentrated with one type of business.

Maintaining a good mix of different types of businesses is important for the vitality and the economic success of an area like Old Town.  So when we start to hear lots of concerns, we take it seriously.  

Zoning laws do many things including regulate development as well as uses (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial...).  A community's job is to make sure that those laws remain relevant and do what they were meant to do.  Times change and regulations evolve.  That's a good thing.

At that time, it was determined that there should be a limitation on new beauty salons, day spas and barbers...and pet grooming (they all fall under the "hair & nails") category and the Zoning Ordinance was amended.  As far as zoning, this only applied to buildings on Myrtle Avenue, it didn't change the side streets of Old Town.

In the interim, the recession came and finally went and based on what we observed and heard, it was time to revisit those regulations.  So we did. 

What was proposed and ultimately approved was amend the City's regulations to make hair & nail businesses permitted by right.  On June 2, the City Council adopted Ordinance No. 2015-03 that did just that...the new law becomes effective in 30 days.  

It's like its 2007 again...perhaps, that should have been the headline.

To find out more about how zoning works in Monrovia, take a look at our website.  

The staff report and ordinance in all its legalese glory can be found here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A good night for preservation

So...What do a Craftsman Bungalow, a brick storefront commercial building and a groovy Mid-century Modern residence have in common?  

On the recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission, all three were anointed by the City Council as Monrovia's three newest historic landmarks on May 19.

While the City doesn't elevate properties to "historic" status all the time, it's not necessarily unusual.  But what is notable is the architectural diversity that this trio represents.  It's very Monrovia.  This range of style is one of the aspects of what makes our streets and neighborhoods interesting.  

248 East Colorado Boulevard
Historic Landmark 132 is located at 248 East Colorado Boulevard, right on the corner of Colorado and Canyon...the southwest corner.

Built in 1912, this is a terrific example of a Craftsman Bungalow.  
The house has some great details including a unique shingle pattern and the original front door with a four glass panel design.

Want to know more?  Check out the

Great front door!


Now for many Monrovians, the mention of Wildrose Avenue brings to mind bucolic images of a neighborhood of pristine Craftsman houses.  There's a good reason: one of the best collection of Craftsman Bungalows in Monrovia are in the 300 block of Wildrose Avenue.  This neighborhood is commemorated as Monrovia Historic District No. 1 (and so far the only historic district).  Back in...oh wait, getting sidetracked here. We'll save that story for another day.
833 Wildrose Avenue

Keep heading east on Wildrose and you'll reach newly designated Historic Landmark No. 134 at 833 Wildrose Avenue.  This is the Monrovia's first Mid-Century Modern historic landmark...and certainly one of our best examples.  

A terrific design on the outside, the interior is just as cool.  For us, it was like stepping on to the set of Mad Men. We heard the same from others who experienced it on this year's Mother's Day Tour put on by the Monrovia Historic Preservation Group.

Not only is it interesting architecturally, but this house has a really great personal history too. Intrigued?  Read the synopsis of an interview with the original (and only) owner of the house. 

It's attached to the staff report.

And finally, landmark number 3...or we should say Historic Landmark HL-135.  

Located at 114 East Lemon Avenue in the heart of Old Town Monrovia, this is only the third commercial building to be designated by the City.  Can you name the other two?

Not because there aren't many other deserving commercial buildings, but Monrovia's Historic Preservation Ordinance is voluntary, meaning that the property owner has start the process, or at least consent to it.

For the past three decades, its been best known as the "Historic Lighting building", after the long time occupant of the building.  The building style is classified as "federally inspired".  This is predominantly seen at the entry.  

Built in 1922, this building was designed by very prominent Angeleno architects Walker & Eisen.  This building came very early in their career, but we're sure it put them on the map, so to speak.

Originally built for the Southern Counties Gas Company as their district headquarters, it is an important piece of Old Town Monrovia's history.  

Typically, interior features are not included as part of the designation, however, in this case Historic Preservation Commissioner Jimi Hendrix noted that the interior fireplace was an original part of the building and was put there to promote the use of gas fireplaces...still a fairly new concept in the Roaring 20's.  Based on its ability to help convey the history of the building, the preservation of the fireplace became part of the designation.  Read all about it in the staff report, it's a da bump.

114 East Lemon Avenue

So there you have it, three new landmarks and its apropos that this all happened on the same night that the City Council proclaimed May as Monrovia Historic Preservation Month.

Oh, yes.  The other two commercial buildings designated as historic landmarks? 101 West Foothill Boulevard (northwest corner of Foothill and Myrtle) and the Aztec Hotel at 311 West Foothill Boulevard which is also on the National Register of Historic Places.