Committee Examining Changes to Altadena Business, Residential Codes

At Tuesday’s Land Use meeting, members began discussing what codes they want to consider changing within the Altadena Community Standards District, which haven’t been altered (with two exceptions) since 1987—and they want your input

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 5/5/2011

Requirements on signage, level of advertisement, parking requirements, and design standards on both businesses and homes in Altadena are about to come under a review process for the first time since 1987.
The Altadena Town Council has begun the slow process of altering portions of the Altadena Community Standards District (CSD), which are the zoning codes and other regulations and ordinances that property and business owners must follow within the unincorporated community.
The size and amount of signage and self-advertisement on a retail business and additions to homes needing Conditional Use Permits are examples of some of the restrictions that people have to follow.
In the last year alone, the town has seen businesses, organizations, and events ranging from the to the to , a petting zoo for autistic children, run afoul of current zoning requirements in the Altadena district codes. 
At the council's 16-member Land Use Committee (LUC) meeting Tuesday night, the nine present members discussed what the scope of the changes should be and mentioned that they're interested in looking at both commercial and residential standards, including signage and banners on businesses, parking, design standards, mixed-use development and the areas that are both residential and commercial. 
The group will also examine what kind of businesses are desired in what areas of Altadena, more specific setback requirements for additions to houses, and other similar issues.
Altadena's set of community codes has not been altered since 1987, except for two recent changes regarding residential zones and the Hillside Ordinance, which limits new building and development on hillside areas in the town.
There is also a Lake Avenue Standards District that the committee discussed looking at to identify successes and problems that can be addressed in the rest of Altadena. The committee's member and council chair Gino Sund said they will be issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to hire a consultant to help identify the scope of what changes should be made to the Altadena CSD.
Long-time Land Use Committee member Steve Haussler is on a subcommittee of the LUC along with an architect, a landscaper, and a consultant that is looking at residential zoning problems that come before Land Use. Right now they're trying to see if homeowners who want to only make small additions to their homes, such as building one bedroom or bathroom or a combination, can be exempt from the large homes ordinance that mostly applies to larger additions.
"The existing ordinance has worked very well for many projects," said Haussler. "But it has to do with larger additions. It unfairly affects people who want to build one bedroom or a master bathroom. All of a sudden the ordinance makes it extremely burdensome to do that. And we're looking at that for people to do small additions."
His subcommittee hasn't worked with the county yet, but he plans to make a presentation on their work at either the next Land Use meeting or the one after that. He's hoping for more public input on this process and the bigger project of altering the Community Standards District.
"I'm going to see if the other Land Use members agree with our recommendations and after that we'll go to county staff and see how they feel about it," he said. "We're hoping to come up with language that is close to what county staff expects. The subcommittee is made up of people who deal with the codes. We're not trying to make a major change in the code; we're trying to protect people doing small projects."
He added that he and the rest of the Land Use Committee would welcome more community input. Only two community members attended Tuesday's meeting.
"I don't think the public has enough input on Land Use Committee issues because they don't know it exists," he said. Committee meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month in the located at 730 E. Altadena Drive. The next meeting will be held June 7, when the discussion of altering the Community Standards District will continue.
The committee's chairman, Brian League, said at Tuesday's meeting that the committee will eventually make a recommendation to the town council about what changes to the district they think are necessary and desirable, but did not set a specific timeline.
Committee member Brent Musson suggested that they adopt California's Green Building Codes and add it to the district's rules. He noted that California has adopted the codes, which are modeled on the international Green Building Codes, and that so far no city in America has outright adopted the GBC. The committee expressed interest in making Altadena the first to do so.
There are many other issues that Land Use members will look at that affect Altadena's businesses and residents. A recent case, for example, is the mural on the side wall of the Patticakes dessert company on Allen and New York Drive, which was painted by a local artist and because it depicts desserts, pastries, and coffee, which constitutes an advertisement for the store, according to a letter from county planning officials to Patticakes' owners, Mike and Phyllis McLellan. That could be considered an issue that Land Use could take a closer look at to see if there are circumstantial situations that should be exempt.
As for other desired changes that Land Use members will consider, Haussler stated that north Fair Oaks would be ideal for housing mixed with retail, but that the county does not allow it yet.
"Also, on Lake Avenue by , it would be brilliant to have residential mixed with retail," he said. It would make it a better community and Lake is less steep there so I think we'd have more people walking. Right now zoning does not allow it, but I think it would bring a vibrancy that's needed, so for the commercial end, I really hope we can do that."