LocationAlhambra , CA
In a straw poll, members of Alhambra’s Planning Commission indicated this week that they would recommend to the City Council that it reject the housing project The Villages at The Alhambra as proposed. Some members said, however, they might agree to approval if there were substantial modifications to the plans.
The proposal remains before the commission until it takes a formal vote. A date has not been set for that vote.
In their informal poll, commissioners had the three options – to say their current inclination was to accept the project as proposed, to accept with changes or to deny it. Based on the nonbinding poll, passing the project on to the City Council for final approval as it is currently proposed is not on the table.
The end result, as read aloud by Deputy City Attorney Greg Murphy, was four commission members leaning towards approval with modifications, six members are leaning towards no, though one denial vote could switch to yes with significant changes to the plans.
In favor with changes were Lucy Bañuelos, Suzi Dunkel-Soto, Debra Moreno Garcia and Barbara Messina. Against were Scott Chan, Ron Sahu, Danny Tang, Noya Wang, Eric Garcia and Antonio Gardea.
In an attempt to turn the commission around, The Ratkovich Company took the criticisms of the project from Monday’s meeting to see what changes could be made as part of a further negotiation.
Garcia is the possible swing vote from no to yes, saying he’s hanging onto his “conditional enthusiasm.”
He is one of the most vocal commission members for increased community benefit, including more affordable housing in the project. Garcia noted that the number of units offered for moderate-income – 10 percent – were only rental units and that half the property is proposed for sale, so the affordable housing component overall is actually five percent.
As proposed, the project has 1,061 units – 516 for-sale and 545 rental units, of which 55 rentals are designated affordable. The applicant has said it is too early to price any units, as the completion is slated for 2028 and “the market will determine prices” at that time.
This project is supposed to improve walkability, Garcia said, “I want to see some ambition. Blow me away with some of these proposals that will improve the area, not just for the residents.”
Traffic and environmental impact are massive hurdles for the project for all the commission members. Those who explained their preliminary negative vote said the inability to avoid adding traffic congestion and negative environmental impacts made it almost an impossible choice for them in view of the lack of public transport and the very location of the property.
Gardea commended the applicant for the time and energy put into this project, “But I can’t get past the traffic impacts,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the vicinity.”
“You can’t pooh-pooh away health concerns,” Sahu said. “They are real.”
Among those who are more in favor of the project, Messina said she wanted to “bring a different perspective” into the consideration. The Ratkovich Company is “taking 38 acres of dead space and turning it into something productive… not taking peoples’ homes,” she said.
Addressing the housing crisis was mentioned as factoring into commission members’ positive votes.
“We are certainly willing to work with the community,” Megan Moloughney, the project’s senior development manager, said in response to the commission. The developer could not negotiate each point individually because there are “triggers that affect the project holistically,” she said.
Commission members ran through specific concerns they would like The Ratkovich Company to consider as part of a negotiation package with the city.
The main points The Villages developers will consider:
- Density – affordable housing and number of units
- Open space – amount and usage of parks and green spaces
- Parking – number requested and actual need
- Traffic/environment – generation of traffic and intersections impacted, air and soil
- Community space – amenities for residents and benefits for city residents
The new package will be brought before the commission at the next meeting, Nov. 2.
In an email to the Alhambra Source, Moloughney said the developer had hoped for a decision last night but was pleased with the careful consideration of the project. She stressed the project will help alleviate Alhambra’s tight housing market and contribute to the economy.
“Achieving an economically viable project is a balancing act that requires compromise on both sides based on the understanding that all changes to the project affect it differently and therefore need to be addressed in totality,” she said.
“We look forward to bringing this mutually beneficial project forward to the Alhambra Planning Commission and ultimately the Alhambra City Council for their final consideration. We are hopeful [they] will make the right choice for the city and approve this project.”
This article has been updated to reflect the Planning Commission meeting date of Nov. 2.