First published in the Dec. 10 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
By Alexandra Applegate
The project to develop the former Sears store on Central Avenue downtown was approved to move out of the first preliminary design review at this week’s special City Council meeting, though only under the condition the contractor incorporate the council’s revisions.
The proposed eight-story, 682-unit multifamily residential project would add to the string of lofty apartment buildings that dot much of downtown. The development would include 69 low-income residential units and add a nearly one-acre mini-park across the street, where the closed Sears Auto Shop currently stands on California Avenue.
The project would offer around 25,000 square feet of resident amenity space with a fitness center, dog wash area, storage units, a business lounge and various lobbies. Outside the apartments, the contractor pitched a vision of urban plazas, public paseos, outdoor workspaces, and gardens to make the entrances more appealing.
To meet the city’s goals of transitioning toward clean energy, the project will also be constructed with energy-efficient windows and appliances, electric vehicle car chargers, solar panels and solar battery storage.
“This project has significant affordable and economic benefits to the city of Glendale,” said Reece Pettersen, development associate and spokesperson for the contractor, Trammell Crow Residential. “This development is a large community investment that will create jobs, tax revenues and attract new residents, bolstering local spending.”
The contractor plans on boosting the economic incentive for the space by including 17 “live-work” units across the first two floors of the building. These units are designed for small business owners by including a commercial-oriented first floor with large storefront windows and a separate living area on the second floor.
“The last thing we want to do is come in and propose more retail that would sit vacant or become competition to small businesses in Glendale or on Brand Avenue,” Pettersen said. “We think the best use of the ground floor of this project is to create incubator spaces that small businesses can operate out of and residents of downtown Glendale can also live on the second floor.”
However, the entire City Council — outside of Mayor Ardy Kassakhian who was absent — expressed concerns over a missed opportunity to add more commercial spaces such as coffee shops or restaurants that would attract more foot traffic and invite spending in the city.
“This whole area on Central is going to be redesigned,” said Councilman Daniel Brotman, referring to the Central Glendale-Redevelopment Agency Project. “It’s really going to be very different looking. We want to activate it and I don’t think live-work units activate it.”
The council also told the contractor they were underwhelmed with the design of the building, which is likely to receive a lot of eyes sitting on a frequented stretch of the city.
Trammell Crow Residential’s proposed designs showcased multiple materials, colors and façade blocks incorporated into the building to add visual interest. Pettersen said the various heights across the units, the separation of the buildings and the setbacks from the street in the design all reduce the “imposing” appearance of the project.
However, the council felt these designs were still too blocky and requested the contractor return to the council at a later date with a more appealing design.
“I thought we had changed our design guidelines for the Downtown Specific Plan and that we would be seeing interesting buildings with good architecture on Central Avenue,” said Councilwoman Paula Devine. “And the first building I see is this one. It just reminds me of everything else that’s on that concrete tunnel.”
While some residents expressed concerns over added traffic and the affordability of the apartments, the Glendale Regional Housing Needs Assessment mandates the city add more than 13,000 units of housing over the next several years to meet the state’s housing goals. This multifamily project may seem imposing but it would only be a drop in the bucket.
“We need this housing, these numbers don’t frighten me. I know there are a lot of people worried about power, water and traffic but I think that ship has sailed,” Brotman said. “We need to provide housing. And even when it’s not affordable — though a good slug will be affordable — it’s adding to the housing stock and it’s going to put pressure on vacancy rates and bring rates down.”
Next, the contractor and the city will work to study the traffic implications, look into any historical value the current Sears building may have, incorporate new design requests and initiate an environmental review.