LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Residents living near a proposed 45-unit commercial development on East Main Street in Alhambra expressed concerns about the traffic the project could create at a Planning Commission meeting cut short by multiple microphones malfunctioning.
Alhambra’s Planning Commission voted unanimously to continue a hearing on the 801 East Main Street project, after one of the commissioner’s microphones and the microphone that the public used for comment stopped working. Attempts by the developer to speak without a working microphone drew protest from the audience of almost 50 people, who said they couldn’t hear him.
Led by President Allan Sanchez, the commission had conducted the public portion of the hearing, heard presentations from staff and the developer and were in the middle of commissioner comments before the outage occurred. After staff was unable to fix the technical issue during a brief recess, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to continue the hearing until April 29, with Commissioners Danny Tang and Dr. Debra Moreno Garcia saying they would make their comments at that time.
Commissioners Scott Chan and Ron Sahu were not present at the hearing.
Before this malfunction, sixteen people voiced their opinion on the project, a four-story 45-unit commercial condominium development at East Main Street and North Cordova Street that could house a pharmacy, medical offices, restaurants and office space. The project would combine seven lots for a total area of 89,818 square feet, with the commercial building consisting of 61,672 square feet. The rest of the site would have a surface parking lot and a staggered two-level parking structure with a top deck in back, totaling 290 spaces.
The Cadillac dealership that was previously at that site closed in 2012, Alhambra Director of Community Development Marc Castagnola said. The Planning Commission approved plans for a Nissan dealership in 2014, but the project was dropped in 2016. James Chou bought the land in 2018.
Many of the residents who spoke out against the project live close to the site on North Cordova Street and Lindaraxa Park North. One of them, Julia Limon, said that while she supports new business in Alhambra, the proposed project wouldn’t fit in aesthetically with the surrounding neighborhood, which the staff report described as being mainly commercial buildings with older architectural styles.
“We like a sleek, modern design as much as anyone else, but unfortunately in this part of town, it would just be one big metallic eyesore,” she said.
Another resident Lawrence Marchese said that the new building would not fit in with the nearby historic homes. “I think we all have to recognize that [this] is a historic neighborhood,” he said, referring to the Lindaraxa Park area where the new development would be.
Residents also expressed concern about the traffic, saying that the 290 parking spaces would increase traffic on East Main Street, as well as on North Cordova Street and North Granada Streets, where the parking lot entrances would be located.
“All the people coming out from the [Smart & Final] market there, let alone everything else, and we’re going to add another major even much bigger parking lot dumping onto Cordova Street,” said Lewis McCammon. He added that North Cordova Street was one of the few cross streets that didn’t have a traffic light at Main Street, making it difficult and unsafe for people to cross or turn left onto East Main Street. A new development at that corner, he said, would make this situation worse.
Residents also expressed opposition to the height of the building, which at four stories would stand taller than most of the surrounding buildings, and were also opposed to the height of the proposed three-story parking structure. William Chu, who lives at 30 N. Cordova St., said that he was afraid that the structure would overlook his property, which is right behind the project site.
Many residents wished that the city had done more to communicate with them about this project, with some saying they found out about it recently through official city notices sent in the mail or by talking to their neighbors.
In a presentation before public comment, Ken Lee, vice president of development at Pacifc Plaza Premier LLC, which is building the project with owner James Chou, said that he discussed the project’s contemporary architectural style with city staff and the Design Review Board during their July 10, 2018 hearing. He said that the building, on the north side of Main Street, would enhance the corridor visually. “When you think about traveling west on Main Street, this building will really provide a pronouncement of the key intersection, which is a gateway, really, into Alhambra, along a major corridor in the San Gabriel Valley,” he said, especially combined with the businesses on the south side of Main Street.
Lee added that the project did fit in with much of the commercial activity going on in the East Main Street area, including the nearby Smart & Final supermarket, CVS pharmacy and Chase Bank. He said that the potential medical offices make sense with the site being close to Alhambra Hospital Medical Center and San Gabriel Valley Medical Center. The development would add around 150 jobs to support the new businesses, and would include EV charging stations and at least 15 bicycle parking spaces to support sustainable transportation.
A city staff report included a traffic study from the Ganddini Group, which found that the project would not add major traffic impact that needed mitigation. Many of the opposed residents were skeptical of this finding.
Lee also said during the public hearing that the parking structure was effectively only two stories. One level would be partially underground because of a slope at the project site and the top level is essential an uncovered parking deck, as shown in the plans included with the agenda. He added that the structure would only be 10 feet tall from the neighbors’ vantage point, an assertion that was greeted with skepticism by some residents.
Director of Community Development Castagnola told the Alhambra Source that there is a wall separating the residential area from the project and that the structure would be set back 10 feet from this wall. Landscaping consisting of tall trees would block the structure — which he said was more like a parking deck — from view, as shown by the architectural and landscaping plans included with the staff report.
Commissioner Eric Garcia attempted to address resident concerns by asking how the city usually notifies residents of potential projects. Principal Planner Paul Lam said that notices are sent out to residents living within a 300 foot-radius of a project, in compliance with state law. The staff report said that notices were sent out to residents on April 3 and an announcement was placed in the Pasadena Star-News on April 5.
Garcia also asked if a traffic light could be placed at North Cordova Street and East Main Street to alleviate any traffic created by the new project. Carl Ballard of the Ganddini Group, which drafted the traffic study, explained that while there were traffic lights at East Main Street and the nearby cross streets of North Granada Avenue and North Hidalgo Avenue, North Cordova Street didn’t warrant one because it’s only congested during peak evening hours. Adding a light at Cordova could push additional traffic from North Granada Avenue towards that intersection and increase congestion.
Garcia further asked if the parking lot could be set back even farther from the residential homes behind the project site. Lee said that doing so would cut into the amount of parking the project could provide, with the city requiring them to construct 284 spaces for it and the developer only providing six extra parking spaces.
Several residents and business leaders spoke in favor of the project, with one resident saying that Alhambra needed additional medical offices so that people like him didn’t have to travel to other cities for non-urgent medical care. Alhambra Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sharon Gibbs said that the project would bring in additional businesses, jobs and workers that would support Main Street’s other businesses.
Alhambra resident Pinki Chen echoed Gibbs’ comment. “I believe this beautiful and quality building will attract quality tenants to our city,” she said. “It is expected that it will bring employment and prosperity to our city.”
Some commissioners were able to express their views of the project before the microphone outages, with Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada saying she was concerned about its traffic impacts, its place in a historic neighborhood and how the building’s use fit in with the draft general plan, which mainly designates medical office uses on Garfield Avenue. William Yee said that he was concerned about the height of the commercial building and the lack of notification for the residents.
Planning Commission Vice President Suzi Dunkel-Soto said that the project complies with the land use and zoning requirements of that area, and suggested looking at the traffic impact after construction to see if another signal or other measure is needed at that intersection.
Commissioner and former Mayor Barbara Messina expressed sympathy for the nearby residents, saying that the mountain view from her house at the corner of 2nd Street and San Marino Avenue had been blocked in recent years by the construction of medical office buildings on Garfield Avenue. She said that change is also good, such as the long-term revitalization of Main Street from a “ghost town” to the bustling business corridor it is today.
“Change is scary, and if we’re going to grow Alhambra, we have to grow with change,” she said, adding that this project was well designed, with features like a parking structure of only two levels and sustainability measures like the EV charging stations.
Lee, Garcia and other commissioners were discussing other methods of softening or disguising the harsh look of a concrete parking structure when the technical issues with the microphones began.
Alhambra City Council member Katherine Lee attended the meeting and said she would stay neutral on the merits of the project. She was concerned, however, about the traffic, the height of the project and whether that would result in privacy concerns for people living by the parking structure. She also wanted to improve communication and was interested in seeing if the city could start notifying a wider radius of people living near future projects.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Planning Commission voted to grant a one-year permit extension to owner Ethan Gao who applied to demolish an existing office building 2224 W. Commonwealth Ave and build a five-story 134-room hotel in its place until July 2, 2020. Commissioner Danny Tang, who arrived at the meeting right as the vote was being conducted, abstained.
Developers who are granted project permits from the Planning Commission usually have one year to submit their construction plans to the city and get building permits. The Planning Commission approved Gao’s project on July 2, 2018 but said that he would be unable to submit his plans by the July 2, 2019 deadline.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to continue a project proposal to build a real estate firm at 3027-3031 Valley Boulevard to their May 20 meeting. The property owner contacted the Department of Community Development on Monday morning and said he needed time to rethink the project. Before the Planning Commission continued the hearing, Lawrence Wong, who operates a business nearby, said that drivers regularly speed down that part of Valley Boulevard to get to the nearby I-710 on-ramp and have hit and killed pedestrians. He said that while he wasn’t for or against the project, the city should make that area safer for residents before allowing anything new to go there, by enforcing or lowering the speed limit or expanding Valley Boulevard to three lanes.
Updated at 10:31 p.m. to clarify the characteristics of the parking included with the project.