City Council voted 3-2 Monday in favor of delaying a decision on an ordinance that would allow for a 70-unit residential development to be built on South Fremont Avenue. More than 100 residents filled the Council’s chambers, with several more standing in the lobby outside. Of the residents who took to the podium, 28 spoke in opposition to the development, while one resident expressed support for the project.
City Ventures, a residential development company, aims to build 30 townhomes, 30 single family residential houses, and 10 single family hillside units at 2400 South Fremont, where the former Alhambra Retirement Community and Lutheran Health Center was located. City Ventures CEO Phil Kerr noted that 81 percent of the proposed development site is zoned as R-3, allowing for multi-residential homes to be built there. He said that current zoning policies would allow for 216 units to be built. Kerr believes that 70 homes is an acceptable compromise. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there that the site is a low density site. It’s not,” said Kerr.
City Ventures’ plans have gone through several versions, beginning with over 200 units in a 2011 proposal, and ending with the current 70. “We’ve been working closely over the past two years with the city and the community to try and come up with a plan for the site,” said Kerr. “In doing that, we’ve looked at down zoning the property.” Kerr says that they have been taking public input since 2011 and hosted community meetings with Alhambra to get feedback.
Dozens of Alhambra residents spoke in opposition to City Ventures' plan, citing increased traffic and a clash with the neighborhood's aesthetics.
Adam Bray-Ali noted the city's pledge to fight traffic on Fremont Avenue, as seen in the "Close the Gap" banners that hang above the street. Bray-Ali said that it would be hypocritical for the city to green-light a development that could bring in more cars. “If it is truly a concern that we have too much congestion on Fremont and that your board believes that, then how can you vote to allow for more traffic?” Bray-Ali asked.
Alhambra resident Ron Sahu citied a City Ventures report that stated, with the additional traffic, a driver may have to wait 527 seconds to pass through the intersection at Fremont and San Clemente Avenue. “Traffic there is at a tipping point right now,” said Sahu.
Sahu also took issue with City Ventures' attempt to rezone the property, saying that it was more than an issue of unit density. He said that rezoning would set a precedent that allows for future developers to get around zoning policies in other Alhambra neighborhoods.
Sahu also noted the gates in the proposed design—there are two at separate car entrances—saying gated access separates the community and “has no place in Alhambra.” Kerr noted that City Ventures is not committed to building the gates.
Ayala motioned to delay a decision until March 23, which he voted in favor of along with Council members Stephen Sham and Barbara Messina. Council member Steven Placido and Mayor Gary Yamauchi voted against the motion.
"Putting an additional 150, 160 cars on Fremont is not going to help,” said Ayala. But he also said that something needs to be built there and that the property belongs to City Ventures. “Here’s what I propose to the community. We hear a lot of ‘don’t do this' or 'don’t do that because’ but I would like to challenge you to form a group of four or five that brings those ideas forward as a working group to the developer or to the Council.”
Carlos Barron, who spoke at the meeting, said that Ayala approached him and others afterwards to discuss the possibility of a citizen coalition that would work with the Council.
“Something is going to be built there and right now this is looking pretty good to me,” said Councilwoman Messina during the meeting. She added that her top priority is preserving the adjacent neighborhood. Sham echoed some residents' suggestions that all homes in the Midwick development should be single-family homes. “I think this would better match the community,” said Sham.
Kerr responded saying that City Ventures tries to work with the cities they develop. “We’re not the type of developer that says ‘Hey it's this way or the highway.' We certainly want to work with the city.” But Kerr added that the company has to keep its investors in mind as they wait for a decision. “I don’t know how long we can do that and be responsible to our investors as well.”
Ayala concluded saying, “If the developer decides they want to go forward with some concessions, then so be it. If not, then that’s the risk we got to take. Today, I think we need to listen to the community and make that decision.”
City Council usually meets every second and fourth Monday of the month on the second floor of City Hall: 111 S. First St., Alhambra, Calif., 91801. The next meeting will be on March 9 at 5:30 p.m.