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Council may ditch affordable housing for park

Members express concern that an already dense area needs green space.

September 22, 2011|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

City officials this week tabled plans to use 1.5 acres in Northwest Glendale for affordable housing, choosing instead to explore turning the land into a park.

During a meeting Tuesday, City Council members, acting in their dual role as the Housing Authority, said the parcel at Sonora Avenue and Fifth Street would be a prime location for a park.

But since the site was purchased using affordable housing set-aside funds, the city will have to refund that money — $6 million — and tap the general funds.

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The property’s value has since dropped to $5.6 million, according to the city.

“A housing development would have to be built on a substantial portion of this,” City Atty. Mike Garcia told the council. “If you want to change it, you have to use city funds to replenish housing funds.”

State law requires cities to develop property purchased with housing set-aside funds within five years. A project at the Sonora site could have up to 53 units, according to a city report.

A development team expressed interest in the land last year, but got push-back from the City Council when it asked for an exclusive agreement to build an affordable housing project targeted at seniors and military veterans.

The City Council reviewed the matter when local architect Efrain Olivares, a member of the Community Development Block Grant Committee, asked for an exclusive agreement with his development team, which included developer AMCAL and nonprofit Alternative Living for the Aging.

Some council members said the pitch circumvented proper procedures and called to put the brakes on the AMCAL project, which had been in the works for eight months and could house seniors and veterans. AMCAL is on a 30-developer list to which city staff had planned to send the project information before the park suggestion came up.

In the end, however, council members decided they did not want to add more housing to an already dense neighborhood.

“There are just so many multifamily units in this neighborhood that it calls out for green space,” said Councilman Frank Quintero, adding that he’d be open to building an affordable housing unit in another area of the city.

Councilman Rafi Manoukian agreed that residents in the area deserved a park rather than more neighbors, and said he was against the city hooking up with affordable housing developers in general because of alleged fraud at some city developments.

Glendale filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Advanced Development & Investment Inc., claiming the Los Angeles-based affordable housing developer bilked the city out of millions in construction overcharges.

“Considering the history with affordable housing developers we have not just in the city, but in L.A. as well, and the [alleged] overcharges that have come to light, I just don’t think it’s a good use of public funds,” Manoukian said.

No matter which option officials choose, not much can happen with the site before January as the California Supreme Court reviews a legal challenge to plans to revamp redevelopment agencies and spending, which includes housing set-aside funds.

“We can look into it,” Garcia said, adding that the city couldn’t go any further before a court decision.

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