The Alhambra Planning Commission voted 7-to-2 Tuesday night to pave the way for a new development for 70 residences and a gated community in the Midwick Tract. Many residents voiced opposition, expressing concern about traffic, new homes, and a proposed amendment to the city's General Plan for development.
The move would amend the city’s General Plan in the Midwick Tract, and adopt the Specific Plan that has been put forth by City Ventures LLC, a home development company. In the Midwick Tract the General Plan stipulates that certain areas are R-1 zones (single-family residences), while other spaces are R-3 (multiple-family residences). The Specific Plan would change these guidelines to allow for the development of 70 residences on 8.8 acres of land at 2400 South Fremont. The City Council now has the final vote on the project.
The Planning Commission’s vote was preceded by a contentious hearing in which residents—many of them from the Midwick area—voiced their opposition to the project. Much of the discussion centered around the proposed amendment to the General Plan. Some residents said it will set a bad precedent, giving developers license to change the city's existing guidelines.“R-1 zones are a fabric of the city,” said Alhambra resident Gisela Adams. “If you allow this to happen to one R-1 zone, then all the others will be in danger in the future."
Traffic, especially on Fremont Avenue, was also hotly debated. City Ventures—in addressing concerns that had been raised in past meetings—presented changes to the roadways leading into the gated community. They have closed off an entrance at Carlos Street—which residents said was too small to accommodate more cars—making Fremont Avenue the only point of entry for the community. The Carlos Street entrance is now reserved for emergency vehicles only.
Some residents found these changes inadequate.
“Twice a day, five times a week, my street becomes a slow-moving, high volume corridor,” said Jose Aguayo, who lives on Fremont Avenue in the Midwick area. “The development at 2400 South Fremont would only make this worse.”
Planning Commission member Mary Louise Bunker addressed the traffic issue by saying, “some of your greatest concerns may not materialize.”
She noted that in the past 2400 South Fremont was home to The Alhambra, a retirement home. She claimed that population density would not be new to the area.
“They had 130 employees over there. And they had people coming in and out, running the kitchen," Bunker said. "And you have residents driving out to visit doctors and relatives.” Bunker said that the volume of cars isn’t the problem—the flow of traffic is. She proposed that the city look into synchronizing the traffic lights to expedite traffic.
Another point of contention was the historical legacy of the Midwick Tract.
According to Christine Olson, President of the Alhambra Preservation Group, Alhambra has not documented the historical relevance of homes in the Midwick area. As such, developers may unwittingly demolish homes that have a legacy in the neighborhood.
Olson added that the proposed designs of the residences—which City Venture has designated as “Bungalow,” “Cottage,” “Spanish,” and “Mediterranean”—were incongruent with the Midwick area.
“It fails to integrate with the rest of the Midwick neighborhood,” Olson said of the styles. “It’s bungalows on steroids, with its features indistinct and its proportions bloated.”
Ron Sahu, an environmental engineer living in Alhambra, said that a gated community would be an affront to the sense of community in Midwick. Sahu also pointed to an entrance that would give residents exclusive entry into Granada Park.
”It is incongruous to have a private gateway into a public park,” he said, adding that this sense of exclusiveness was “insulting.”
Susan Prado, a resident of Arcadia, came to the hearing to represent relatives—including her mother—who had lived at the former retirement home on 2400 South Fremont. She said that they had been promised lifetime care but were instead relocated after the home was shut down. “They invested their life savings under the promise," said Prado. "The promises were not honored.” Prado said she would like to see the 2400 South Fremont area provide affordable housing to uphold “the spirit of what was supposed to be there.”
The Planning Commission, in responding to the speakers, focused on traffic and unit density. The commission reiterated Bunker’s suggestion that street lights be synchronized to regulate traffic flow, and commission member Jeff Maloney noted that the proposed site is largely designated for multiple-family residences. "For that specific area, most of that site is currently zone R-3. The Specific Plan would result in a density that is lower than what is currently allowed," said Maloney.
Thomas Maloney and Ross Maza voted against the proposal. A date has not yet been set for the City Council's decision on the project.