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Plans move forward for Forbes Avenue development site

Plans are inching along for the development of the recently sold Claremont Unified School District Surplus site, located at 2475 N. Forbes Ave.

On November 21, the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education approved the sale of the short-lived La Puerta Intermediate School to the highest bidder, Brandywine Homes of Irvine. The transaction, raking in $18,875,000 for the school district, is currently underway.

The developer has wasted no time in meeting with the city to flesh out their plans for the site. City officials met with Brandywine executives at the end of December, according to Brian Desatnik, director of community development. Their second meeting was set for last week and, if all goes according to plan, a preliminary review of site plans could come before the city’s planning commission in early February, he shared.

Though Mr. Desatnik states only preliminary plans for development were discussed, in an interview with the COURIER in late December, Brandywine President Brett Whitehead expressed the company would like to build large homes at around the million-dollar price point on the approximately 9.7-acre parcel. 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,” he said. “It’s a market we feel hasn’t been served for a number of years.”

A zoning change will be necessary in order to move forward with those plans. Although the surrounding neighborhood is zoned residential, the La Puerta lot is currently designated as public and does not allow for residential development, according to city officials.

La Puerta and the surrounding area were used for agricultural purposes until 1967. The following year, 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. Brandywine’s purchase will not affect this agreement, city officials have confirmed.

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 began on the future CHS Career Technical Center to be located at La Puerta 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.

In order to develop homes as desired, Brandywine management will likely be seeking to change the land’s zoning designation to a specific site plan or custom map, according to Mr. Desatnik. Customized zoning is often used for large sites that do not have consistent borders. In the case of the surplus site, homes border only two sides of the property with a trail and park lining the other two. A custom map would help the developer make the best use of the open land and varying setback requirements.

“This will allow [Brandywine] more flexibility,” Mr. Desatnik said.

Though plans for the development of the surplus property may be in front of commissioners by next month, construction is still a ways off, Mr. Desatnik assured.

“We want to get preliminary feedback from the community and commission,” he said. “It helps developers to get early feedback and the community feels better when their voice is heard early on in the process before the developer has spent mega time and money developing a concept. It benefits everybody.”

The COURIER will continue to report on development of the La Puerta surplus site as information becomes available.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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