Planning Commission postpones decision on Midwick Tract project, residents voice concerns over proposal

The Alhambra Planning Commission did not approve on July 21 a residential development in the Midwick Tract. In a 3-5 vote, the commission echoed area residents' concerns about traffic and parking, and said it would hear the proposal again after the completion of an area traffic and parking study. There is currently no timeline established for the study, which will be conducted by design consulting firm Kimley Horn, according to Development Services Deputy Director Vanessa Reynoso.

Dozens of Alhambra residents filled the City Council Chambers for the public hearing, voicing concerns that the project would cause more traffic, complicate parking, put pressure on local public schools, and disturb the Midwick Tract area with construction.

City Ventures' proposal includes 70 homes on 8.8 acres in a Midwick Tract neighborhood adjacent to South Fremont Avenue, Carlos Street, and Whitney Drive in Alhambra. The project includes 30 townhomes and 40 single-family homes. The proposal would re-zone the area from a mix of single-family residences and multiple residences to a designation that allows for higher density.  

City Ventures is proposing to build 8 units per acre, higher than the maximum 5 units per acre of single-family housing but lower than the maximum 30 units per acre for areas solely zoned for multiple residences. City Ventures is also planning to build 175 parking spaces, 58 spaces less than what is required by the current zoning ordinance, according to a Development Services staff report. The developer's plan includes more common open space than what is required by Alhambra's zoning ordinance, according to City Ventures Vice President of Development Bill McReynolds, who noted that open space may come at the cost of parking.

"It’s just a matter of green versus parking,” McReynolds said.

Planning Commission members  on July 21.

Midwick residents have been fighting against City Ventures' development since its initial proposal in 2011. City Ventures introduced the 70-unit project in 2012, scaling back from its original design of 93 units, but the project was placed on hold months later. City Ventures came before City Council again in 2013 with a proposal that aimed to address residents' concerns, but residents still opposed the development, citing many of the reasons posed at the July 21 meeting: parking issues, traffic, and overcrowding.

Some members of the Planning Commission said on July 21 that the project would cause more traffic in the area. The two vehicle entrances to the Midwick Tract development are on Fremont and Carlos in the proposed design. Commissioners were concerned that a lack of other entrances would back up traffic on Carlos.

Commissioner Gary Tse said he was worried that there would not be enough parking spaces and that those cars would spill onto the street. "I'm not sure I'm ready to make that recommendation," Commissioner Gary Tse said"I think that's the question, whether or not they have enough parking or not." 

Some commissioners were positive about the project. Commissioner Mary Louise Bunker supported the development and the move toward higher density. Bunker said she was worried that the city would see designs with hundreds of new residences and said the 70 units City Ventures is proposing is a positive number. "I'm not saying that I haven't seen some problems,"  Bunker said. "The city has been mandated by the state to make possible a certain number of additional dwelling units to take care of the increased people that live in our state. So we're going to have to build them somewhere." 

While the Planning Commission was not in agreement, a majority of the residents who took the podium did not support the project. Midwick Tract resident Cliff Bender agreed with some of the commission's traffic and parking concerns and said he was worried that new residents moving into the Midwick Tract neighborhood would increase congestion in the area. "I have a big concern with the amount of traffic this will generate," Bender said. "Alhambra and Alhambrans have been complaining about our traffic congestion not for years but for generations." 

Resident Edward Ruiz, who has lived in the Midwick Tract for 44 years, echoed Bender's concerns. "What happens if you approve this?" Ruiz said. "That's going to be a highway for me."

Eric Sunada, Alhambra Source community contributor and City Council candidate, was concerned with the unclear decision from the Planning Commission. “I'm worried. Even if the Planning Commission doesn’t vote in favor of the development the City Council is the overall authority deciding this matter," Sunada said.

Alhambra Resident Luis Aguirre lives less than a block away from the proposed project and was also disappointed with the meeting's outcome. "The reason we purchased it [our property] was because of how nice and peaceful the area was. We were shocked they were even considering the development," Aguirre said. "Yes, they didn’t approve it but they also didn’t reject it. They kind of just kicked the can down the road.”

The vacant Alhambra Retirement Community that occupies the spot of City Ventures' development

Despite the unclear future of the Midwick Tract project, former City Council candidate Elizabeth Salinas expressed her gratitude to the community for attending the meeting and discussing the development. "I’m very proud of the fact that we had such good community turn out," Salinas said. "We have residents that take pride in their community. We have a good historic community and we want to maintain and protect that."

2 thoughts on “Planning Commission postpones decision on Midwick Tract project, residents voice concerns over proposal”

  1. Too bad the article does not include how the planning commission members voted instead of only the overall vote.

  2. The spurious and self-provoked rationalizations by Commissioner Mary Louise Bunker during the public hearing are indicative of the divide between her and her lobby's  interests and that of the community.  She provided three reasons for her support of City Ventures' development:  1) we are mandated by the state to build dwelling units, so we are going to have to build them somewhere; 2) if we don't approve this proposed project, we might later be faced with something much worse by another developer; and 3) “I've spoken to our water district and they assure me that we have plenty of water.”

     

    First, she is unconditionally wrong in her statement regarding mandates to build housing.  The state requires each city to provide a plan for how they can help meet future housing needs, and makes no dictum on building.  The focus of this effort is to address the need for housing that is affordable (there's no shortage of unaffordable housing).  To add insult to injury, an analysis of the city's developments to date shows them exceeding their target goals for building market rate housing while falling miserably behind in building affordable units, thus not adhering to the intent of the “mandate” Bunker is trying to wear.  Note to city leadership:  Regardless of one's opinion on the social state of the city, do not use those in need as justification for your special interests.

     

    Her second point is a fear tactic.  Her attitude that “yeah, this project has problems, but it could be much worse so we better approve it” is absurd.  Residents deserve much more from their leadership.

     

    And finally, believing that we have “plenty of water” is beyond comprehension.  The key well levels in the Main San Gabriel groundwater basin are approaching record low levels.  Alhambra has it even worse given that our portion of the basin's geology does not permit efficient water re-charging and that we are a federally designated Superfund site for groundwater contamination.  Bunker's comments are based on our reliance on imported water sources which come at higher costs and are never guaranteed.  To state that we have “plenty of water” is once again a parochial view without consideration for long term sustainability.  The “we got ours, and I'm not going to worry about others” mentality hurts everyone far more than she realizes.

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