LocationAlhambra , CA
Alhambra City Council member Katherine Lee is struggling to preserve the potential for an “old town” on the east end of Main Street and wants to limit new construction there.
Council members were to consider an urgency ordinance, proposed by Lee, that would prohibit new buildings in the East Main Street Corridor that would be more than 25 feet in height. The ordinance would be for 45 days and have a public hearing; it then be considered for an extension to one year and eligible for renewal for a second year.
Lee’s argument is twofold: more recently proposed buildings are too tall compared to the current neighborhood homes or buildings and there are no unifying visual or architectural standards throughout the city, making discordant neighborhood facades.
The still-nebulous idea of an “old town” – low, possibly Spanish-style buildings with similar storefronts – modeled after quaint San Gabriel Valley cities’ old towns that are actually aged in time – is supported by residents and the local community to fill the strip of land on Main Street. Council member Jeff Maloney has also been vocal about supporting the efforts.
The city is already updating its Zoning Code, a massive effort to analyze and update the city’s zone text to comply with its newly adopted General Plan. The East Main Street Corridor has its own project within this update, an architectural design analysis and guideline, specifically to evaluate and address the community’s concerns.
The proposed ordinance says its purpose is to “preserve the status quo.” Lee said she fears in the six- to seven-month process to develop an old town plan, a developer will submit and receive approval from the Planning Commission for a project taller than 25 feet and with an unattractive exterior design.
The eastern strip of almost one mile from Almansor to San Gabriel city limits is what is considered as the East Main Street Corridor.
At the Sept. 28 City Council meeting, Lee asked that the urgency ordinance be added to the council agenda, and all agreed, in the context of continuing the conversation. On Monday, most of the council members were shocked that they were voting on enacting the ordinance when they understood the item to be a discussion of details for future consideration.
Those in favor of the ordinance include neighbors wanting to preserve their view, those concerned with visual aesthetics of the area, anti-development supporters and “old town” proponents.
Those against included business and property owners, Alhambra’s Chamber of Commerce and affordable housing advocates. The argument from businesses was they were not given notification, other than the publication of the agenda and that terms of the proposed ordinance would affect their property. Some wanted at least a month to review the ordinance to understand its intent and ramifications, and some asked outright to downvote the measure.
Those affordable housing advocates said the strip of Main Street might be rezoned in the coming zoning code update to provide for state-mandated housing development goals and that limiting development in the area is hurting the city’s efforts.
In related business, the council amended the scope of the work with Miller Planning Associates, which is facilitating the Zoning Code Update, to include an economic analysis, architectural design guideline for the East Main Street Corridor and notification services.
The company is analyzing the city’s current zoning and will then move to framing an outline, drafting regulations that fit city and state goals or mandates and eventually public hearings with review of the documents.
The additional service of architectural design guideline of the East Main Street Corridor is the analysis, community input and planning of the same section of land that residents and Lee want to place under the proposed ordinance.