LocationAlhambra , CA United States
The recent approval of a large mixed-use development on Valley Boulevard and Marengo Avenue focused attention on environmental issues in the City of Alhambra, as the fate of almost 300 trees on the site were called into question.
Plans showed that while the Sunny View Care Center nursing home would be rebuilt, the fate of a church that community members say has historic value was also up in the air. An expected zoning change following the project’s approval recalled recent battles between residents and city officials over responsible development ahead of a long-awaited updating of the city’s general plan, which governs urban planning in Alhambra.
The City Council last week initially approved the zoning change and general plan amendment to allow a portion of the land, much of it in a residential neighborhood, to be developed commercially as part of the city’s Valley Boulevard Specific Plan. The developer, working on behalf of a group of local physicians, planned to build condominiums, a retail space and medical facilities.
Alhambra resident Lola Armendariz expressed concern at the City Council meeting about what would happen to the tree canopy at the Sunny View campus, and brought up a Los Angeles Times article that mentioned Alhambra as one of the hardest hit areas by tree-targeting insects and disease.
She asked the city to share a tree survey that the developer, St. Clair Company, had to submit. This survey would allow the city to determine which trees could remain undisturbed or be incorporated into the new development.
There are 275 trees on site of a dizzying variety, including jacarandas, oaks, coast redwoods, eucalyptuses and several types of fruit-bearing trees, consulting arborist Richard Ibarra wrote in a letter to St. Clair. He recommended that some of the site’s Crape Myrtle trees be incorporated into the new project.
According to a map based on the survey, the city planned on incorporating around 40 existing trees in the new project, and saving many of the trees that dot the site’s perimeter.
Residents at the City Council vote also asked whether the new development means the destruction of a historic building, the Chapel of St. Simon and Jude. The church was left from the time when the nursing home was owned by Episcopal Communities & Services. According to the 1985 Alhambra Historical and Cultural Resources Survey, it was built in 1926 and was designed by Reginald D. Johnson, a prominent Pasadena-area architect at the time. The survey listed the church as a building to be studied for possible historic preservation.
Another building, Johnson Hall, was built on the property in 1923, housing 23 senior residents.
But a required environmental study submitted about the site concluded, “Although many historical structures have been identified within the city, no archaeological resources are known to exist.” Representatives from the St. Clair Company did not return the Alhambra Source’s request for comment on whether they were aware of this history.
At the City Council vote, a couple of residents raised questions about why the development necessitated a zoning change and an amendment to the city’s general plan. Cliff Bender asked what such a change said about the future of responsible development in Alhambra. “This new thoroughly developed plan shouldn’t need zoning changes/amendments, at least not so many of them,” he said.
In response, several City Council members called the change a “small amendment” that brings the whole project in line with the current general plan. City officials also said that the Valley Boulevard Specific Plan, which allows for more density and commercial development, would not change when the new general plan comes out and that the project would also align with that document. The City Council was likely to give the zone change their final approval on Monday.