Commission split over Pomona College master plan, EIR

The planning commission is at odds over the Pomona College master plan and EIR. After a long and tense meeting Tuesday night, the issue will go to council with a negative recommendation.

The commission narrowly approved the most recent iteration of the Pomona College Master Plan during a marathon, five-hour session that lasted into Wednesday morning. The 4-3 vote also addressed the environmental impact report (EIR) and a proposed zone change for 211 and 239 north College Avenue, which includes the site for the potential Museum of Art.

Commissioners Cynthia Humes, Rick Reed, Leigh Anne Jones and James Jackson voted for the recommendation, while Commission Chair K.M. Williamson, Vice Chair Richard Rosenbluth and Commissioner Doug Lyon voted against it.

Due to the split decision, the matter will be sent to the city council as a “negative recommendation,” according to Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik, because it needed a “supermajority” or at least a 5-2 vote from the commission to receive a positive recommendation.

The vote came after extended scrutiny and tense conversation among commissioners, city staff and members of the public, including a public comment session that lasted nearly 80 minutes. A rift between commissioners was evident during discussion, as Mr. Rosenbluth, Ms. Williamson and Mr. Lyon claimed the EIR did not adequately address the Claremont Village Design Plan.

Mr. Desatnik clarified that although the entire master plan was up for a vote Tuesday night, the presentations will focus on two main aspects: the proposed museum site and the possible relocation of Renwick House to make way for the museum.

Claremont Contract Planner Belle Newman was on hand to present the staff report, detailing the history of the master plan to the commission and outlining the main plans for the museum and the moving of the house.

According to a handout provided by Pomona College, several sites were considered and ruled out due to various reasons, such as difficulty of community access and, in regards to the softball field on College and First, unacceptable distance from the “academic core.”

Jennifer Trotoux, who represents Pasadena-based Architectural Resources Group (ARG), noted that Renwick is a historically significant building, based on its early history in Claremont, the well-known status of Helen Renwick and as an example of Queen Anne architecture.

Ms. Trotoux told the commission about other potential sites for the house deeper within the college, but the site across College Avenue was chosen due, in part, to the need for minimizing potential impact by placing the house in a similar setting.

In addition, Ms. Trotoux claimed relocation of the house would not be too difficult, citing old houses larger than Renwick that have been moved in the past. Some of the trees, such as the date palms around the property, could be successfully moved as well or integrated with the museum plans, Ms. Trotoux said.

Karen Sisson, Pomona College’s vice president and treasurer, gave Pomona College’s part of the presentation, saying the college has no plans to move or modify any of the other Victorian homes that the college owns.

Mr. Lyon, rifling through a large cache of city documents, pressed Ms. Newman and the EIR team about the museum falling under the definitions of the city’s Village design plan, which states that anything built within the Village “…will enrich and preserve the character of the Village.” Ms. Newman said that it did, which elicited some chuckles from the crowd.

Mr. Rosenbluth critiqued the EIR itself claiming, in part, that it doesn’t address the entire streetscape from First Street to Fourth Street, but only individual buildings. He asked Ms. Newman why Claremont Heritage wasn’t involved in the process of determining the historical significance of the house.

Ms. Newman said the city did give material to the group, but “in this particular case, I don’t believe Claremont Heritage has the credentials. I don’t know if they’re certified and meet the standards of the Secretary of the Interior standards for professionals.”

Claremont Heritage Executive Director David Shearer noted that nobody was against putting in a museum of art, but cautioned the commission to “take a step back and take the time to get it right.”

Mr. Shearer also addressed Ms. Newman’s comment.

“In terms of Claremont Heritage, the city of Claremont does contract with Claremont Heritage to comment on preservation issues,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re going to have it after this, but currently we do have a contract with the city. On our board of directors, we do have certified architectural and archaeological Secretary of the Interior standard certified professionals.”

Later in the meeting, Mr. Desatnik took time out to clarify that the city does have a good relationship with Claremont Heritage, it just uses outside firms for larger projects.

Pomona College employee David Tenenbaum supported the move and the creation of the museum, saying it will be a “win for the city and the college in the future,” telling the commission and the crowd that Helen Renwick would approve of the relocation of her house, if she were alive today.

Resident Bob Gerecke quoted passages from the city’s Village design plan and general plan and submitted the museum could be built on the east side of College Avenue where the house is supposed to be moved, adding that replacing Renwick would fail to preserve the community design.

In all, 23 people made cases for and against the museum during public comment, forming a line that almost made it to the entryway of the council chamber.

During discussion, Mr. Rosenbluth was adamant in his opposition to the plan and the EIR, spending a large amount of time pulling out document after document that he claimed does not allow Pomona College to place its museum on the site.

Mr. Rosenbluth and Ms. Humes got into a brief argument during discussion, with Ms. Humes cautioning the commission not to deny the plan under “bad instincts,” and Mr. Rosenbluth taking “strong exception” to her comments.

Parking was also an issue, which was brought up my Ms. Williamson. According to the handout, the main parking Pomona College parking garage on First Street would serve as primary patron parking. Ms. Williamson took exception, claiming it was too far of a walk.

Ms. Williamson also claimed the EIR did not adequately address the Village design plan, and effectively gut a historic district, calling the Victorian row “a bona-fide historic zone” which was not adequately vetted by ARG.

After Mr. Rosenbluth’s motion to deny recommending the EIR, the zone change and the master plan was voted down 3-4, the staff recommendation brought up by Mr. Reed was ultimately passed, 4-3.

The next step is to get approval from the city council at its April 12 meeting.

—Matthew Bramlett


An error in a comment attributed to Brian Desatnik has been corrected online. Unfortunately, it was published incorrectly in the March 18 print edition. We apologize for the error.


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