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Council divided over influx of high-density on Base Line

The empty lot left by the former city Strawberry Patch, located on the southeast corner of Base Line Road and Towne Avenue, is going the way of many other vacant spaces along the Base Line corridor.

The Claremont City Council on Tuesday cast a divided 3-2 vote to change the zoning designation of a portion of the 6-acre lot to allow the construction of a 95-unit townhome complex across the entire property despite early discussions of adding a commercial component in the corner of the empty space.

The City Ventures, LLC development will feature two and three-story buildings outfitted with solar panels. Two open spaces, one with a pool, will also be included in the design.

After several years of dispute over the western portion of the land’s mixed-use designation, local stakeholders, including officials from The Webb Schools—located across the street from the proposed development—were pleased to see the decision change in favor of an all residential project.

“I get nervous of the traffic flow,” said Webb’s Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale. “We have a number of students...and they ride their bikes, they go down to the Village, hang out at restaurants, etc. Increasing the volume of traffic with some kind of retail center makes me very nervous from a safety standpoint.”

Safety was a major concern for Mayor Opanyi Nasiali, who questioned the decision to leave the only accessway in and out of the development on Base Line Road without a traffic signal.

“People are going to be forced to come out of this project and have to make a left turn on Base Line when there’s traffic going westbound to the freeway in the mornings. That could be difficult, you could be there for quite a while,” Mayor Opanyi said.

Adding a traffic light to that access point was thoroughly vetted as part of a traffic analysis in June 2013, according to City Engineer Loretta Mustafa. However, it was determined, based on ample gaps in traffic, that the traffic light would not be necessary. Choosing to go against that finding and place a light at the access point anyway could result in legal troubles for the city, she asserted.

“The reason we put in a signal in the first place is because we find it’s not a safe situation for people getting out of that place,” Ms. Mustafa said. “If a traffic accident happens because of that signal, and it’s been known that they can occur if you have an unwarranted signal, then the city finds itself in a liability situation.”

In addition to his concerns over traffic flow and safety, Mayor Nasiali’s decision to ultimately oppose the project was because of the zone change.

The zoning designation for many of the vacancies along Base Line Road were evaluated by city council members and commissioners as part of the city’s comprehensive general plan update in 2005-2006. As part of that update, it was determined the western portion of the Strawberry Patch site be designated as mixed-use while the eastern portion would be strictly residential.

City officials and residents continue to dispute the decision. Residents of the adjacent neighborhood cited traffic, safety and unsightliness among their top concerns. In addition, overhead power lines significantly hamper the site along with constraints placed on development of the property by the electric company, Caltrans and fire department regulations. With required setbacks, the developer would not be allowed to place commercial buildings on the northeast corner of the property as desired. And with the depressed freeway onramp and offramp along with the restriction of freeway signs in that area, it would be difficult for retail to be successful, claimed Brian Desatnik, director of community development.

Mayor Nasiali maintained his hesitance to go against the original plan for the space.

“If we implement this change we are in effect locking the door and throwing away the key,” he said. “I hate to hasten in to make a major change like this knowing we have limited land.”

 

Mr. Nasiali wasn’t the only one questioning the recent influx of high-density development in vacant spaces along Base Line Road. Councilmember Sam Pedroza noted his reluctance to support high density projects moving forward, but once again acknowledged the city’s general plan, which had spelled out long ago that high density development would be allowed at these sites.

“The die is cast,” Mr. Pedroza said.

Councilmember Corey Calaycay stood his ground, maintaining his previous stance to vote against the building of any more three-story complexes and his opposition of high-density development. He pointed out that the general plan’s vision for Base Line Road includes preserving “the open feeling on these large lights, maintain historic setback lines and ensure that home editions or new construction respect the dominant arch styles and scale.”

Mr. Calaycay joined the mayor in opposing the project, not because he was against making the entire space a residential development, but because he would rather the new zoning designation match that of the residential dwellings already housed in the area.

“If I’m going to have to concede to a zone change I’d sooner concede to a zone change that fits better with this neighborhood and also takes into account what my residents are telling me about lower density development,” he said.

 

Council approves south Claremont complex

Following the planning commission’s preliminary review of a proposal for 2456 N. Forbes Avenue last week, the Claremont City Council on Tuesday gave its approval to the final tract map for another development at Vista Drive and Indian Hill.

The vacant 1.75-acre lot will soon be filled with 21 detached, single-family homes. Each will range from 1,340-square feet in size with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths to 1,760 square feet with 4 bedrooms and 3 baths.

Residents have been actively involved in the process since The Olson Company Housing, LLC first brought plans forward for a preliminary hearing in 2012. The final design is the result of multiple reviews and community meetings initiated by the developer in response to public backlash. Three community meetings were held following the initial review, at which time the development plan was completely reworked with community input. The developer scratched initial plans to rezone the lot and reworked the design, rearranging the structures to make them face outward instead of in towards each other, making the development more harmonious with the adjacent Wheeler Park neighborhood.

The developer also addressed safety concerns with the housing project so close to the constantly bustling Indian Hill Boulevard. A block wall, with a maximum height of 8 feet, has been added along Indian Hill Boulevard with landscaping to serve as a buffer between the sidewalk and the wall. Additionally, the bus stop currently adjacent to the lot will be shifted 40 feet to the south for pedestrian safety. A gate has already gone up around the site, as the developer begins grading the land.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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