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Our Village South guidelines are being ignored

VIEWPONT by Jim Keith

During two years and eight months of discussion, the Claremont public and even our architectural and planning commissions were given no estimates for the total number of residential units, parking and population being planned in Village South.

Therefore, it was a shock when we were first able to read just a few numbers in a city notice on July 19 that announced a public meeting of the necessary environmental impact report.

Those numbers are the infamous 1,140 units, a hotel with 75 rooms, plus commercial and professional space. We have now learned there are 1,848 parking places in the plan as well, which we think will not be nearly enough.

Involved residents all over Claremont thought “How could so many units be constructed under the guidelines unanimously approved by the city council in June, 2018?” We now know the answer, because we were able to see a one-page spreadsheet from the publicly-paid planning company. The answer is that those numbers ignored the limits for maximum building height.

Our city has been using grant funds to pay a professional planner to create models of what can be built in Village South. It is now apparent that the planner first created a “Tier 1” option with 736 residences and no hotel. It includes many four-story buildings, which was the absolute maximum that was unanimously approved by the council on June 12, 2018.

The applicable part of those council guidelines states: “Buildings located in all other areas...are limited to one to three stories in height, with the potential for limited fourth stories that are creatively designed to set back and break up the massing of the fourth story.”

Under someone’s direction, the contract planner has also created a greatly-expanded option now called “Tier 2.” It has added an extra story of residences to every building in the planning zone, up to five-story buildings. This plan increased the number of units by 55 percent and the parking by 51 percent.

City staff has so far refused to release any further details from the contract planner that would show how much space was reserved for plazas, set-backs or resident amenities. There is a big gap in transparency here. If the new members on our city council want to direct our city manager to increase the population density of Village South, then it must be discussed and voted on in public.

City staff first proposed in its notice that the Tier 2 five-story plan would be the only plan evaluated in an EIR. With so much opposition at the July 29 public meeting, there was a verbal commitment to evaluate the lower density Tier 1 plan as well. Staff now says that the Tier 2 plan is simply a “worst-case” number, and the density can be scaled back at later commission and council meetings after the EIR is complete. However, a lot of damage has already been done.

We all know that landowners and developers are watching these density numbers carefully, since every additional unit means significantly more profit. By proposing these inflated numbers, city staff has told the developers that this extra density would be fine with them, ignoring the official limits in the council guidelines. I expect that developers will now proclaim that they won’t build without five-story buildings.

Another staff comment is that other cities with Gold Line stops are putting in urban-like developments with five-story buildings like this. That’s true. Look at the drawing in last week’s COURIER for Pomona’s new station. However, Claremont leaders have been building a Claremont Village brand for 100 years. Why do we want to risk destroying it by copying neighboring cities without so much to lose?

Try to imagine the impact on Village parking, Indian Hill traffic and the Village brand. If it is also too much for you, please contact your city council members to stop these Tier 2 numbers from being used in an environmental impact report. It is time to speak up.