New Camellia Court deal brokered in order to avoid lawsuit

Photo by Phoenix Tso.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

A deal to save more trees in the Camellia Court development trees and turn part of the property into open space has been reached, avoiding a threatened lawsuit against the project.

The developer, St. Clair Partners, met with members of the Marengo Avenue Water Brigade, to hammer out a deal that would save 85 trees, not including city-owned street trees, instead of the 59 trees that they designated on a map presented at a September City Council meeting. St. Clair Partners also agreed to open a historic church up on the property for public use.

The two groups reached the agreement to avoid a lawsuit, emails between the City of Alhambra and Mark Paulson, a consultant on the project, show. The month before, Lowe’s Superstore pulled out of a development on Fremont Avenue, after local residents filed a lawsuit blocking that project.

Melissa Michelson, head of the Marengo Avenue Water Brigade, expressed tempered satisfaction with the new deal. “I’m disappointed that it requires a lawsuit — or the threat of one — to ensure the best interests of the community, with a local group of community activists and neighbors serving as advocates, not our elected leaders,” she said.

Neither Paulson nor Stephen St. Clair, head of St. Clair Partners, returned requests for comment.

The Camellia Court development is part of an overhaul of the Sunny View Care Center, a medical facility for seniors. It was previously run by Episcopal Home & Community Services, and is also the site of a historic church, built in 1926 by prominent local architect Reginald D. Johnson.

The public was first alerted to this project in June, when the City Council approved a first reading of a general plan amendment to allow retail stores on the property, which had been zoned for residential development only

Residents objected to the project when they learned that many of the 268 trees on the property would be cut down. People also expressed concern about the demolition the historic chapel.

After pulling final approval of the project from the next City Council meeting, a group of residents mobilized, calling themselves the Marengo Avenue Water Brigade. They pointed out multiple irregularities with the tree survey that the developer submitted to the City. The residents also claimed that the City Council had not done enough to the convince the developers to preserve more of the trees, many of which are decades old.

The City Council granted final approval over the project in September. The developers then asked to meet with Michelson after she mentioned a possible lawsuit during her public comment in front of City Council.

Both groups did a walk-through together of the property, agreeing on which additional trees they could save in the new development, or transplant to other locations in Alhambra.

They agreed to save seven more trees and to transplant 19 additional. St. Clair Partners also agreed to open the church up to the public and is preparing an application to remove some parking spaces around the church to incorporate public park space into the development.

Michelson said the Marengo Avenue Water Brigade was satisfied with the agreement, among the remaining questions was the survival of the transplanted trees. She also said the terms of the agreement required monitoring.

The controversy over this development has led to the city’s staff to draw plans to protect trees of a certain age that are native to California.

The Camellia Court development is scheduled to go in front of the Planning Commission again on Nov. 20, due to an additional zoning issue over medical offices planned for the property.

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