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Changes are coming with sale of Hibbard property

As the plans for Village South begin to take shape, the erstwhile Richard Hibbard car dealership has finally found a buyer.

The information comes from Claremont Principal Planner Chris Veirs, who told the COURIER in a phone interview Tuesday the plans on the southerly expansion of the Village are being recalibrated to accommodate the new owner.

“I don’t want to say we’re going back to the drawing board, what we’re doing is we’re all enriching the plan,” Mr. Veirs said. “Part of that is involvement with a new owner and likely development partner.”

But it isn’t a sale in the classic sense, where a contract is signed and the deal is closed, Mr. Veirs noted. Instead, he said it was a conditional sales contract—which is a deal that would become final after a due diligence process, when certain milestones were reached throughout the planning phase.

One of those milestones is a zone change, which Mr. Veirs noted might become mixed-use. The current zone designation on the Hibbard lot is commercial-highway.

Conceptual plans for the 17-acre area—which includes the Hibbard lot, the Vortox building (now owned by Keck Graduate Institute) Garner Glass and a number of small businesses and residential properties—were pulled from consideration in December when the news became clear.

“Absolutely, that’s why we took this off the agenda,” Mr. Veirs said. “Basically it precipitated them coming to the city and saying, hey, we’re very close to having a conditional sales contract to buy this property and we want to be involved. That’s why we spiked it from the planning commission and architectural commission agendas in December.”

Mr. Veirs would not name the buyer. Saul Jaffe, who was noted as the representative for Mr. Hibbard, did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Jaffe is also the owner of the former Montessori school property on Base Line Road, which was initially going to be a residential development called Gable Crossing until developer Taylor Morrison backed out in 2015.

Mr. Veirs did note there have been multiple meetings with the new buyer, and he indicated they were “fairly enlightened.” That stance is vital, Mr. Veirs said, and he compared this notion to developers who worked with the city to build Village West.

“Waiting and bringing them along and bringing them in as a partner in all of this is very important,” Mr. Veirs said.

The plans went into full swing in June of last year, when Sargent Town Planning and the city put together a forum to gather ideas from residents about what they would like to see in a village expansion.

Those ideas were pulled together into a packet with conceptual drawings that included a mixed-use neighborhood with tree-lined streets, a parking garage in the northwest corner and a new commercial street down the middle.

Mr. Veirs described those drawings as, “very preliminary,” and a “what-if” scenario.

“[The project designers] went off and wanted to get something down so we can envision what this looks like,” he said. “It was never meant to be a finished product.”

He did note, however, there has been a mixed reaction from the public to Village South.

“There are people who want no change, but the majority of folks have said they would want something more of a mixed use closer to the Village,” he said.

The original plan, according to the agenda report, was to receive approval from the city council by January 2018 and use the documents as “a framework to create a draft specific plan document for review.”

Those plans changed when a buyer emerged for the Hibbard lot, which encompasses 30 percent of the future site of Village South.

As for a new timetable, Mr. Veirs demurred, noting that he would formulate a more certain timeline within the next week or two. The planning team needs to do more work on the final product before it makes appearances on future agendas.

But he did note there would be “scores” of public meetings in the future as the details get hammered out.

“It’s taking some time, but it’s well worth it,” he said.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com