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Alhambra Planning Commission Reopens Public Comment on Controversial Commercial Development

Neighbors protesting the 801 E. Main St. project at Monday's Planning Commission meeting. Photo by Phoenix Tso.

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Alhambra , CA United States

An Alhambra Planning Commission hearing on a controversial development at 801 E. Main St. was once again continued on Monday night to allow for additional public comment.

The Commission voted 9 to 0 to reopen public comment on the project, a four-story 62-foot tall commercial condominium complex, after resident complaints that the Commission didn’t let them speak during a previous hearing on April 29. After most commissioners expressed their support to reopen the public hearing, Commissioner Eric Garcia made a motion to reopen, which passed unanimously.

Commission President Allan Sanchez limited speakers to three minutes, after discussion with the Commission, instead of the customary five minutes. The Commission also continued the hearing until June 17, which Deputy City Attorney Greg Murphy said was necessary to give to people who didn’t attend this hearing a chance to speak because they thought they wouldn’t have that opportunity. Public speakers would also get three minutes each on this item during the next hearing, and commissioner deliberations would also occur then.

Nine people spoke on the project before a packed room, all of whom were residents who live near the project in the Lindaraxa Park neighborhood. Several of the speakers also thanked the Commission for reopening public comment.

Multiple Commissioners also expressed issues with the building and garage height for the project, the potential traffic impacts and that only 61 neighbors were notified by mail about the project, during the April 29 hearing, and a hearing on April 15. The Commission continued the previous hearing on April 29 to give a chance for the developer, Ken Lee, Vice President of Development for Pacific Plaza Premier Development Group, to meet with two neighborhood representatives in a city-facilitated dialogue to see if both parties could agree on any changes to the project.

“[The height of the building] is going to dramatically alter the view that we have,” said Lewis McCammon during public comment, who along with Marisol Grier, represented the neighbors in the discussion with Lee.

Associate Planner Abraham Tellez gave a recap of the meeting, which took place on May 29, saying that Lee agreed to strengthen the buffer between the parking structure and the neighboring homes with “more lush” landscaping. Lee also agreed to add plants to the parking structure walls, known as a green wall, to soften the look. He also offered to reconstruct a set of Lindaraxa Park pillars, a historic centerpiece of the pocket park in the Lindaraxa neighborhood, as an “off-site amenity that provides a community benefit.”

During the meeting with residents and city staff, Lee said that he could not reduce the height of the office building, according to Tellez. For this reason, the neighbors continued to oppose the project, and led by Grier, gathered outside of the City Hall after the hearing to implore those who did not speak on Monday night to bring up additional points during the next Planning Commission hearing on June 17, and to make their voices heard with City Council as well.

“Don’t give up,” Grier said. “We can do this and we can keep showing up.”

Neighbors also handed out half-sheets that people could fill out if they wanted their name included on the City Council appeal, and to contribute to an appeal fee. A petition was also circulated.

Due to the fact that the project proposal did not change after the meeting, and since the project meets all development conditions, Tellez said that staff continued to recommend that the Planning Commission approve the project.

Public comment was closed during an initial hearing on April 15, when 16 people spoke on the project. The Planning Commission decided to continue the hearing after multiple microphones stopped working, making it hard to hear commissioner deliberations and the developer’s response to their questions. Public comment was closed before the microphone malfunction.

On April 29, the commissioners attempted to pick up where they left off, finishing their questions and comments to city staff and to Lee. Rachel Richman, an attorney from Burke, Williams & Sorenson who was substituting for Murphy, said it wasn’t customary for the Planning Commission to reopen public comment in a situation like this.

This has led to protest from neighboring residents who packed the room to oppose the project, and who spoke out at subsequent Planning Commission and City Council hearings against the decision not to hear from additional residents.

After hearing additional public comment on 801 E. Main St., the Planning Commission voted 7 to 1 to approve a four-story mixed-use development that would include 37 condominium units on a 37,265 square-foot site at 123 S. Chapel Ave. A number of residents spoke in support of the project, saying that it would bring much-needed housing to Alhambra, as well as a customer base to the businesses on Main Street.

A smaller number of residents spoke against the project, mentioning potential traffic and pedestrian safety impacts, questioning how the building’s open space would be used, and saying that the development should include units set aside for affordable housing.

Commissioner Danny Tang attempted to add affordable housing as a condition of approval for the project, but multiple Commissioners said that this isn’t something they could require, since Alhambra does not yet have an ordinance requiring affordable housing incorporated into residential developments.

Tang voted no on this project after attempting to also require bike parking and electrical vehicle charging stations as conditions of approval. Some commissioners said that the homeowners association should decide whether they wanted bike parking or storage. EV charging stations would be addressed during the building plan check process.

Tang also tried to require a playground and sports area within the development for any families moving into the development, but other commissioners said that doing so would be premature, since it was unclear at this stage who would exactly move in to the development, and since Story Park is close to the project site.

The project was approved with Commissioner Eric Garcia’s condition that a “green screen” of vegetation be added to a portion of the parking structure.

Commissioner Scott Chan wasn’t present at the Planning Commission meeting, while Commissioner Ron Sahu had to leave after the hearing on 801 E. Main St.

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