HomeBlocksFront-GridChamlian School Gets OK to Stay in La Crescenta

Chamlian School Gets OK to Stay in La Crescenta

The Chamlian Armenian School is here to stay following the Glendale Planning Commission’s approval of the school’s use variance application, allowing the campus to continue operating in La Crescenta’s low-density residential zone.
The May 15 meeting attracted a packed audience as supporters of the school sang its praises and neighbors living near the campus stressed their frustration with traffic and noise issues.
Since its opening in 1983, Chamlian Armenian School, a TK through eighth-grade private school in the North Glendale neighborhood, has been receiving use variance permits from the city with terms and conditions it must follow to continue operating. This is because of the campus’s location within an R1 zone.
“Permitted uses in the R1 zone are limited because the primary intent of this zone is for development of low-density residential use and to protect this type of use from excessive noise, traffic, pollution and other deleterious impacts,” a staff report explained.
Many public schools are located in residential zones throughout Glendale, and the former site where Chamlian now resides was once Lowell Elementary School in the early 1960s. According to planning staff, because Chamlian functions similarly to a public school, the city has allowed it to operate in this zone.
An important aspect of the use variance approval is that Chamlian is not proposing any changes to its operation, including expansion or a change in enrollment, according to the staff report. However, a number of public commenters at last week’s Planning Commission meeting asserted that Chamlian is, in fact, expanding. They called attention to a recently purchased property across from Chamlian along Lowell Avenue that is set to be turned into a preschool.
A page on Chamlian’s website details a plan for “Chamlian Armenian School’s new Hacop & Hilda Baghdassarian Preschool.”
“The Hacop & Hilda Baghdassarian Preschool will carry the hallmark of our core values, creating a vibrant bilingual learning atmosphere and inspiring curiosity and creativity among our youngest learners,” the school’s website said.
Additionally, Sorsid Creative, a design and architecture consulting group, posted a blueprint of the Hacop & Hilda Baghdassarian Preschool, showing its location on Lowell Avenue and across from Chamlian.
Despite this, Rodney Kahn, the variance use’s applicant, told the commission that the property across the street had “nothing to do with Chamlian.”
Susan Bolan, steering committee member at the Crescenta Valley Community Association, told the News-Press that Kahn was “very dishonest” in his remarks to the commission.
“The Chamlian Armenian School is expanding despite their claims to the contrary,” Bolan said. “The proof is in their own statements and press releases.”
In their deliberation, commissioners did not address the concerns about the preschool, to some community members’ dismay, and went on to approve the use variance by a 4-0 vote.
Prior to this approval, Chamlian last acquired a use variance in 2014, which allowed the school to increase its enrollment from 500 students to 700 and included requirements to mitigate traffic congestion surrounding the school site. These terms, which included offering free shuttle services, providing a financial incentive for carpooling and spreading out school start and end times over 30 minutes, were partially adhered to by the school, but not entirely.
Although Chamlian did start offering a bus and vanpool service, students who signed up for the services were charged a fee.
Chamlian Head of School Talin Kargodorian noted at the meeting that very few students use the bus and van. Because of that, Kahn urged the Planning Commission to rethink the requirements for transportation, also asserting that the bus causes even more traffic problems by blocking cars and taking up curb space.
“The bus actually impacted the traffic in a negative way. … So not only were we paying for something that people weren’t using, but it was causing even more traffic problems,” Kahn said, adding that the money needed to operate the bus could be used for higher carpool incentives.
With this in mind, the Planning Commission decided to continue requiring free shuttle services in some capacity but left it up to the school whether it uses a bus or van or another system.
Additionally, while ending times for students in different grades were spread over 35 minutes, start times were spread only over 15 minutes. The new agreement reinforces that this staggering be a minimum of 30 minutes.
The 2014 agreement mandated a minimum of $50 for the carpooling incentive; however, Chamlian currently offers $40. The Planning Commission increased this minimum to $75 at last week’s meeting and stipulated that carpools made up of three or more families would receive $100.
Raising the financial incentive for carpooling, making shuttles free, and enforcing staggered start and end times aim to alleviate some of the traffic concerns raised by many public commenters at the meeting.
Because the school did not fully comply with its previous requirements, however, Bolan is not convinced these changes will come to fruition.
“There is absolutely no reason to believe that the school will comply this time either,” Bolan said. “The community is extremely frustrated by the lack of response to their concerns and that the variance was granted with weak conditions and no expiration date.”
Although in the past, Chamlian has had to reapply for variance use approval after a certain period — most recently 10 years — the Planning Commission made this approval indefinite. Commissioner Edith Fuentes said that just because the approval does not expire doesn’t mean community members cannot still bring forth concerns over the school’s compliance.
“Even without a time limit, [residents] have a recourse of requesting for a revocation,” she said “… I want to make that very clear because some people think when there’s no time limit, it’s going to be there forever but … they can always come talk to staff and discuss violations or things happening on site that are not within the conditions of approval.”
Many neighbors of the school complained of parents ignoring traffic rules and blocking driveways while dropping off and picking up their students.
A public commenter who introduced herself as Annabelle Hambarsumian said she lives right in front of the school and told planning staff that there are many “inconsiderate” parents at Chamlian, calling traffic issues in the area “horrible.” A parent herself, Hambarsumian said she has to wait 20 minutes to make a right turn when leaving her home to take her son to his local school.
“I have nothing against the school itself and I love that the kids get education; however, traffic is getting worse by the day and there are inconsiderate people blocking our driveways and blocking our garbage cans, many times,” she said.
Along with other neighbors who spoke at the meeting, Hambarsumian said that the school’s events are loud and that the parking for these events overtakes entire streets, prohibiting residents from enjoying leisure time and having guests over.
Lt. Tigran Topadzhikyan of the Glendale Police Department’s Traffic Bureau said traffic congestion and frustration among neighbors is seen at all of Glendale’s 30-plus schools.
“It is a very common problem where the community members and the residents are frustrated with pickup and drop-off times. … You have hundreds of people showing up at one place to drop off in a very, very small amount of space,” he said. “… Unfortunately, there is really no way around it. The children need to get to school.”
Kahn acknowledged traffic concerns and noted that it is always challenging to live near a school.
“There is traffic in the area. We are not trying to act like pickup and drop-off is perfect,” Kahn said. “We are doing a great job, but it can always be improved. What we have is 95% of parents following [procedure] and the 5% who do not is what causes problems.”
Bolan recognized that traffic issues are common for schools in general but pointed out that Chamlian is a commuter school, meaning far fewer students live close enough to walk to school.
In addition to the traffic-reducing measures imposed by the Planning Commission, Kahn suggested the school also add a mid-block crosswalk at the west side of Lowell Avenue, replacing the one at Abella Street to increase the curb area for drop-offs.
Some residents raised their eyebrows over this suggestion, including Bolan, who speculated that the goal of this crosswalk is to connect Chamlian to the Hacop & Hilda Baghdassarian Preschool, rather than to reduce traffic.
“The consideration of a lighted crosswalk to move children across the street should give anyone pause and can only be construed as setting it up for families to park on the west side to drop students at the preschool then walk them across to the elementary on the east side,” Bolan said, calling it “a very bad idea as cars whip around that corner.”
The commission voted to mandate that the addition of this crosswalk be examined, but did not require it to be implemented.
Another condition of the use variance is that the school designate a “point person,” or an email address, specifically for neighborhood residents to reach out to when they have concerns. The hope is that this will help build a better relationship between the school and neighbors.
One public commenter, Johnny Ventura, described the current relationship as “fraught with anxiety,” noting numerous failed attempts of communication between neighbors and school administration.
Planning Commissioner Stefen Chraghchian said the point person designation is a “very important” aspect of this agreement and offered advice for the future designee.
“To whoever that point person becomes, be very patient with our community members, because their needs are obviously very important as well and we want to do everything we can, reasonably speaking, to make sure that they are also heard and taken care of,” Chraghchian said.
Commissioners also heard from numerous Chamlian parents, current and former students, and staff about their appreciation for the school and their desire to see it continue its legacy for years to come.
A former student who introduced herself as Nayiri Agayan spoke of the “transformative power of the Chamlian experience.”
“Each one of my former classmates exemplifies a drive for success and displays their passion for Armenian heritage. My hope … is that Chamlian will undoubtedly continue to thrive and prepare its young Tigers to make their unique mark on the world.
“The unique qualities of Chamlian coupled with its unwavering focus on academic excellence foster outstanding leaders, citizens and neighbors. Most importantly, it cultivates a passionate and patriotic generation of Armenians,” she added.
Similarly, parent Evan Arevelian said he hopes the school continues its work and becomes “a permanent fixture.”

First published in the May 25 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.

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