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Glendale City Council skips groundbreaking for 'Godzilla of all development projects'

Jun 11, 2016
By: Arin Mikailian, Glendale News Press

Next on Lex construction continues on an entire block, surrounded by Orange St. on the east, Central Ave. on the west, Milford St. on the north and Lexington Dr. on the south, in downtown Glendale on Friday, June 10, 2016. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

Like many groundbreaking events, the one for Glendale’s largest mixed-use project had ceremonial shovels to kick off construction, but no one from the City Council showed up to scoop the first clump of dirt.

Construction of the 494-unit Next on Lex project officially commenced on Friday and, despite it winning support from the council two years ago, none of the elected officials attended the event.

Councilman Ara Najarian has been vehemently opposed to the project since the beginning, saying it’s part of the 3,500 units in downtown Glendale that were approved too quickly.

At a council meeting on Tuesday, he described Next on Lex as the “Godzilla of all development projects” and said he would be boycotting the groundbreaking. He voted against the development in 2014.

Builders, financial backers and architect representatives take part in the ceremonious groundbreaking as Next on Lex construction continues in downtown Glendale on Friday, June 10, 2016. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

While none of his colleagues went to the event, they said their absences weren’t influenced by Najarian.

Mayor Paula Devine said she had “no vested interest” in the project. She wasn’t a council member when Next on Lex was approved, but voted in favor of its design in November 2014.

Councilwoman Laura Friedman said she didn’t attend because she had to tend to paperwork regarding her campaign for state Assembly.

Next on Lex will take up most of the block bounded by Orange Street, Lexington Avenue, Central Avenue and Milford Street. The project is comprised of three, six-story apartment buildings that will have ground-floor retail. The structures will open in phases.

Kevin Farrell, a senior vice president with developer Century West Partners, said the firm wanted to be in downtown Glendale so people can live closer to where they work – an approach that should address concerns about additional traffic.

“[Traffic] is a legitimate concern. What we found in studies and even the Downtown Specific Plan is that if we build housing near jobs, it reduces peak-hour demand, but office space increases it,” Farrell said.

With Fifield Companies president Kevin Farrell looking on, company chair Randy Fifield, right, speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Next on Lex project on Friday, June 10, 2016. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

The project will also be bisected by a pedestrian paseo to serve as open space for everyone. Farrell said it will be a space where people can congregate or to just sit and read while enjoying a cup of coffee.

Najarian said all that would have played out better perhaps five or 10 years down the road, but not now. In 2006, the city council adopted the Downtown Specific Plan, which was designed to promote growth within downtown’s borders.

But new units are popping up way too fast, Najarian said.

He pins the blame on planning staff — at the time led by former Community Development Director Hassan Haghani — for processing mixed-use development applications too hastily and not making an effort to slow things down.

“Although the Downtown Specific Plan permits [mixed-use projects] and that type of density, it’s all been happening way too quickly in my opinion,” he said. “There’s probably six buildings under construction or on the cusp of being opening … I think we’re dumping too many residential units, and it’s going to choke the city.”

However, current Community Development Director Philip Lanzafame said, according to the models his department has used, the development boom should be sustainable. Part of the specific plan’s goal was to generate more nightlife in the city and that’s been happening, he said.

As for other implications, he admits that, for some things, the city is going to have to wait and see.

“It’s got to play out over time … Time is going to tell when all the units are built whether we have put in place the right improvements and policies,” Lanzafame said.

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