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Housing for artists comes one step closer

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An affordable housing complex for artists took a key step forward Tuesday as city leaders approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with the project's developer, but City Council members called for some tweaks to the so-called Glendale Arts Colony as it moves through the development process.

The $31.3 million project, which plans to incorporate 70 units and community space for art display and creation, is proposed for a 1-acre site adjacent to and owned by the Glendale YMCA at 140 N. Louise St.

It would replace two apartment complexes — one with 22 units and the other with four — and it would face Kenwood Street between Wilson Avenue and Broadway.

“You've heard of starving artists … this fits for them going in here,” said Mayor Dave Weaver, as the City Council, acting in its dual role as the Housing Authority, unanimously voted for the project to move forward. Plus, he added, “the city gets an innovative try at something new.”

The five-story development would be a joint venture between the nonprofit Meta Housing Corp. in Los Angeles and the city's Housing Authority.

YMCA officials had wanted to build an affordable housing complex for seniors on the site, but council members nixed that proposal in February because there is sufficient senior housing in the area — about 400 units within two blocks of the YMCA — and they wanted residents who wouldn't be opposed to late-night activity in the neighborhood, known as the Arts & Entertainment District.

Although most members of the City Council and Housing Authority liked the proposed design and concept, some were concerned about how potential residents would be chosen and the mix of unit types.

Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said he didn't want to block individuals in Glendale who have been on the hunt for affordable housing from the project because they don't meet a narrow definition of artist.

Councilwoman Laura Friedman agreed that the types of artists targeted to live at the complex should be broad. She envisioned makeup artists and set designers in the entertainment industry having the same eligibility as fine artists.

“I really love the idea of workforce housing for the creative community,” Friedman said.

Councilman Frank Quintero disliked that 31% of the units would have three bedrooms, describing the neighborhood as a bad fit for families because of its lack of open space and overburdened schools.

City officials said the developer can still shift the unit mix because the nuts-and-bolts design phase for the 222,596 square-foot development is slated to return to the council for consideration again in February.

Eligible residents would have to make between $17,400 for one person to $53,700 for five people, according to a Meta Housing Corp. report. Rents would range from $466 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,292 for a three-bedroom unit.

The project also proposes 8,450 square feet of community space, which would include an art gallery, digital media lab, outdoor work decks and sculpture garden.

“We really wanted to put together a project we thought would inject life into the Arts & Entertainment District,” said Chris Maffris, vice president of Meta Housing Corp.

There are several market-rate apartment complexes popping up in the city's core, many of which are marketing themselves to young professionals and creative types. However, the Glendale Art Colony will be one of a few new affordable housing projects in downtown. One, the 44-unit Veterans Village in the 300 block of Salem Street, is expected to break ground next month.

The YMCA's main gymnasium is slated to remain, as well as a nearby 84-unit hotel for men, which is owned by the YMCA.

The city's financial commitment is still in the works, but Meta Housing Corp. has asked for a $6.4 million loan.

The Glendale Art Colony is set to include 260 parking spaces, 135 for residents, while the rest will be for the YMCA, which currently has 108 parking spaces.

If all goes according to plan, Meta Housing Corp. expects to complete construction by April 2016.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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