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Council decides on zoning discrepancy for Clara Oaks

As work on planning a proposed housing development in the Claremont hillsides began, the city first addressed a zoning issue.

At their last meeting on July 23, the Claremont City Council unanimously approved a resolution to change the zoning of the hillsides north of The Webb Schools.

The area is the proposed site of Clara Oaks, which is set to be a luxury single-family home development in the hillsides above the school. The project has already come under scrutiny since it was first introduced two years ago, with some residents worried about increased fire danger in hillside developments.

During the specific plan process, the city said, planners became aware of an ordinance from 1981 that identified the area as H/SD1, but a map from 1994 labeled the area H/SD2, creating some confusion over how the area was actually zoned. In zoning parlance, “H” denotes hillsides and “SD” means slope density.

The main difference between the two zones is the amount of units allowed. H/SD1 allows for smaller lot sizes and smaller setbacks, therefore allowing for more units to be built, as opposed to H/SD2.

To make sure this wasn’t an error made by a previous council or commission, the city scoured through years of documents dating back to the late 1970s to find the source of the mistake. City staff found nothing in the record to show the zoning had been changed prior to publication of the 1994 map.

This was the second time the zoning discrepancy came before the council in July. At the July 9 meeting, Mayor Corey Calaycay pushed the agenda item to the next meeting in an effort to make sure that all minutes, resolutions and ordinances were looked through and accounted for.

In the end, the city chalked the discrepancy up to a typographical or “scrivener’s” error after not finding an ordinance that changed the zone from H/SD1 to H/SD2.

Regarding this particular area, up to 38 units can be built when it is zoned H/SD1, as opposed to 22 for H/SD2, said contract planner Jennifer Davis at the July 9 council meeting.

Residents opposed to the Clara Oaks development were at both July meetings where this resolution came up for discussion. On July 9, Martin McLeod noted during public comment that the idea of building in the hillsides needs to be reevaluated, given the increased fire danger over the years.

“Generally I’m for development, I’m for sensitive development, but I think there comes a time when you have to say it’s a bad idea,” Mr. McLeod said.

At the July 23 meeting, Pamela Casey Nagler also spoke out about fire danger, as well as the potential environmental impacts and how the multi-million dollar project may exacerbate Claremont’s affordable housing issue.

Councilmember Ed Reece said at the July 23 meeting that “despite my feelings on open spaces,” the city needed to right any property error in the community.

Mr. Calaycay said that while it is “embarrassing” for the city to have this error, “we have to take responsibility when they do happen.”

A similar zoning quandry cropped up in 2016 during the planning of the new museum at?Pomona College. An oversight by city staff during the adoption of the city’s general plan in 2006 resulted in the city updating zoning for a number of city properties, including the parcel on College Avenue for the museum.

At that time, the planning commission was asked to review an ordinance that aimed to provide consistency between the city’s general plan land use map and the separate zoning map.

“There were seven sites left off when our general plan was adopted,” Brian Desatnik, the city’s community development director explained in 2016. “We have an obligation to make them consistent.”

After months of back and forth between commissions, ad hoc committees and the council, the zone change was approved with a 3-2 vote of the council on May 24, 2016.

At the July 23 council meeting, in addition to the zone change, the city agreed to hire Dudek Environmental Planning to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project.

That part of the planning period, where potential environmental impacts the project could pose to the surrounding area, could take anywhere from 12 to 24 months, according to Community Development Director Brad Johnson.

Parking lot restrictions approved

The council also approved to restrict parking for a city-leased lot at Bonita Avenue and Grinnell Drive, due to what the city said is illegal activity taking place at the lot.

The lot is one of few places Village employees can park beyond the three hour limit without getting ticketed, and it also provided overnight parking.

Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen told the council the city has received complaints about people living in cars parked overnight and drug paraphernalia seen in the lot.

The city has a lease agreement with Frontier Communications (Verizon) to use the lot.

During public comment, Rachel Forester, who lives down the street from the parking lot, said the city should be looking at expanding overnight parking, as opposed to contracting it.

“I think this is a law where we don’t need a law,” she said. “It’s just one parking lot. It’s the one place where you can leave a car overnight, and I just don’t think we need it.”

Evie Kaufman of Inclusive Claremont said the restrictions would hurt homeless individuals who may be using the lot, and more limitations would not necessarily help safety.

“I think we would lose an opportunity to be a more inclusive community if we were to limit the ability of these people to stay within Claremont’s downtown,” she said.

Chief Vander Veen noted that nearby residents complained about activity at the lot, and abandoned vehicles.

Councilmember Jed Leano was initially concerned about the proposed restrictions, after finding out that the only other city-leased lot in Claremont is one south of the Village Bank of America, which are used as overflow parking during the weekend.

“I feel like we’re attempting here to legislate a specific parcel when in fact we’re not really getting to the reasons why the parcel is having issues,” he said. “We’re just going to shift that activity somewhere else.”

He advocated for the ordinance to focus only on the Verizon parking lot, rather than other leased lots that may not have the same issues.

City Manager Tara Schultz explained that the ordinance up for vote only concerned the Bonita/Grinnell lot as opposed to a city-wide ordinance due to a “computer glitch.”

Apparently, staff printed an older version of the ordinance that focused only on the Bonita/Grinnell lot instead of an ordinance that included more generic wording that would encompass all other city-leased lots.

The council passed the ordinance, 3-1. Jennifer Stark, Corey Calaycay and Mr. Leano voted to restrict parking at the Verizon lot, while councilmember Ed Reece voted against it. Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder was absent from the meeting.

The lot now has a one-hour parking limitation between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m., which is smaller than the city’s typical 2 to 6 a.m. overnight parking restriction because the city wanted to give Village employees enough elbow room to arrive early to work.

—Matthew Bramlett

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