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Will new building change the face of Claremont?

The recent sale of a large piece of surplus property in north Claremont to an Orange County home developer, coupled with progress in multiple housing tracts throughout the city of Claremont, has locals asking a pressing question: Is greater housing density changing the face of Claremont?

Undeveloped land across Claremont has grown scarcer in recent months as a multitude of development projects begin their long-anticipated moves forward. Six different developers are advancing with housing developments that are set to add approximately 694 new housing units to the City of Trees, only 114 of which are detached single-family homes, according to Brian Desatnik, director of community development.

The lack of new single-family homes has drawn concern from local realtors as the city moves forward with high-density complexes.  

“We are flooding the city way too fast,” said local realtor Ryan Zimmerman. “It’s going to overcrowd the neighborhoods.”

Realtors point out that many potential Claremont homebuyers are seniors looking to downsize into single-story homes that are easier to navigate and care for. At the same time, first-time buyers with children might not want a townhouse because such homes typically do not have yards.  

“Builders these days are single-family home averse because they are not as profitable for them,” Mr. Zimmerman said. “And if they are for single-family homes, they are building them on little postage stamps, which isn’t okay.”

Last week, news over the sale of a 9.7-acre parcel of surplus property at 2475 N. Forbes Ave. to an Irvine home developer sparked further debate on Claremont’s housing future. Dozens of residents posted comments on a Facebook link to the COURIER story, with concerns ranging from overcrowding of the city and its schools to the loss of the neighborhood’s character. The Claremont Unified School District property, once home to the short-lived La Puerta Intermediate School, raked in $18,875,000 for the school district on November 21 from the district’s highest bidder, Brandywine Homes. The transaction is currently underway.

Brandywine President Brett Whitehead insists the company has no plans to build a housing complex. Instead, Mr. Whitehead says the company wants to build 62 large homes at around the million-dollar price point. Each would be between 3,000 to 4,000 square feet.

“We feel there is a lot of pent-up demand for move-up housing,” Mr. Whitehead said. “It’s a market we feel hasn’t been served for a number of years.”

The history of La Puerta is marked by stops and starts, with the school district making several unsuccessful attempts at a purposeful use of the land.

La Puerta and the surrounding area was used for agricultural purposes until 1967. Then, in 1968, CUSD purchased the property for a second middle school after El Roble became overcrowded. When La Puerta Intermediate School closed in 1979, the city of Claremont entered into a 99-year lease agreement with CUSD for use of the back portion of La Puerta for a city sports park.

In 2003, with their sights set on opening another elementary school, CUSD launched an environmental analysis of the location, which revealed the presence of arsenic and petroleum hydrocarbons, among other contaminants. The toxins were successfully removed in 2004.

The plans for La Puerta Elementary School, which would have been the district’s eighth elementary school, never materialized after Measure Y money ran out. The district abandoned the project in late 2004.

An amendment to the city-school district lease agreement was made in 2007, after the city council approved a 70-foot-tall cell phone tower on the site.

In 2008, Carrie Allen, then CUSD director of secondary education, presented the board of education with a 5-year plan to increase technical education. With the district offices moved to the adult education building on San Jose Avenue, work on the future CHS Career Techinical Center to be located at La Puerta began with a targeted opening of 2010. This second attempt by the district to use the land was also abandoned when lack of funding caused the district to wind down the effort. The CUSD board deemed the site surplus in late 2012.

The eminent sale of the property will not impact the lease agreement between the city and CUSD for use of the sports park, which doesn’t generate any money for the district, according to Mr. Desatnik.

“Brandywine’s deal will not affect our lease,” he said.

City officials have yet to meet with or have any discussions with Brandywine about development plans, according to Mr. Desatnik. The price tag, however, has left many uneasy about what it might mean for the surrounding neighborhood, which is zoned as residential with single-family homes that are required to be situated on a minimum 13,000-square-foot lot.

Greg Hohn, who moved to Forbes Avenue in 2000, says he isn’t so much worried about a new housing development as he is about the traffic new housing might generate on his street.

“Forbes is a pretty wide street, there are no stop signs from Miramar all the way down to Base Line, and it’s very, very busy. People drive extremely fast,” Mr. Hohn said. “Once [development plans] go through, I will be attending the planning review just to address ways the city can mitigate the traffic in any way they can. It’s already a problem.”

Mr. Whitehead and Brandywine hope to meet with the city within a week to move forward with development plans. A zoning change is likely to be among the first topics of discussion. Although the surrounding neighborhood is zoned residential, the La Puerta lot is currently zoned public and does not allow for residential development, according to Mr. Desatnik.

“The developer will have to prepare an application to us for rezoning and we will then have to determine how we want to proceed,” Mr. Desatnik said. “After that, [plans] get reviewed by the planning commission and ultimately the city council.”

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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