City council to re-review master plan, again

The Claremont City Council was split Tuesday on a controversial plan to move a historic home to make way for the proposed Pomona College Museum of Art in a marathon meeting that lasted into Wednesday morning.

The council voted unanimously in favor of certifying the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed museum, but split 3-2 on a zone change that would allow the facility to be built at the location.

A supermajority—at least four yes votes—was needed to override the planning commission’s March 15 negative recommendation on the zone change and the 2015 Pomona College Master Plan.

“You couldn’t approve a master plan without having an approved zone change, because the master plan is required to be consistent with the zoning,” Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik said. “Even though you could approve the master plan on a 3-2 vote, you can’t approve it without having the zone change approved.”

The next step is to create a subcommittee of two councilmembers and two planning commissioners to once again go over the zone change and master plan ordinances, according to Mr. Desatnik.

The subcommittee, consisting of councilmembers Larry Schroeder and Joe Lyons and Planning Commission Chair K.M. Williamson and commissioner Leigh Anne Jones, will present its findings during the May 24 council meeting. At that point, a three-vote simple majority would be needed to pass the zone change ordinance and the master plan.

“I believe the goal is to extend the process a little longer in the hopes that people would work together to amend the project in a way that gets everyone moving forward,” Mr. Desatnik said.

Ms. Williamson voted against the EIR, zone change and the master plan during the March 15 commission meeting, while Ms. Jones voted in favor.

The zone change would reclassify the properties at 211 and 239 North College Avenue from “medium-density residential” to “institutional/educational,” which is a small but vital step for Pomona College to move forward with their master plan.

The city’s official zoning map lists the property as residential. In a previous COURIER interview, Mr. Desatnik described the designation as an oversight when the 2007 zoning action was approved, as the city’s 2006 general plan classifies the property as institutional.

Pomona College officially appealed the planning commission’s negative recommendation in a March 28 letter to Mr. Desatnik.

“The property is listed as ‘institutional’ in the city’s general plan and the current zoning of the property does not correspond with the general plan,” Pomona College Assistant Vice President Robert Robinson wrote in the appeal. “Therefore…the planning commission erred when it failed to recommend that the city council adopt the zone change.”

A point of contention for some is the lack of adherence to the Village Design Plan (VDP), which holds that anything built within the Village conform to certain style parameters. Mr. Lyons and Mayor Sam Pedroza brought up the VDP during discussion, and Mr. Desatnik and City Attorney Sonia Carvalho described the VDP as “guidelines,” as opposed to mandates.

The museum would be within “area 3” of the VDP, which is labeled residential, but the staff report indicates that a number of non-residential structures exist within that area, including city hall and the post office.

The meeting included nearly two hours of public comment from 32 Claremont residents, and officially adjourned around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning.

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Pedroza issued an apology to the full house gathered in the city council chamber.

“It sounds like it’s anti-climactic, but this is the nature of this issue. I think everyone in this room and up here is seriously looking at this issue and not taking it lightly,” Mr. Pedroza said, adding that this is how decisions in the city are made.

The council meeting was rife with passionate public comments from proponents and critics of the plan. Some, including Claremont Heritage Director David Shearer, cautioned against the relocation of Renwick House, claiming it would permanently disrupt the historic character of the block.

Other commenters, including a representative for the group “Citizens to Save College Avenue,” rejected the findings of the EIR, claiming in part that it did not take into account the overall historic relevance of the west side of College Avenue between First and Fourth Streets.

The EIR found two “class one” impacts—meaning significant and unavoidable—in the master plan: the tearing down of the Thatcher Music Building and the noise created from construction.

Ms. Carvalho told the council that the city staff would not present a document if it were deemed inadequate.

Jude Emmert, the 11-year-old son of Claremont Heritage board member Jesse Emmert, approached the podium and urged the council to vote against the plan.

“I’m just a kid, and adults always say these things are complicated, but this doesn’t seem complicated to me,” he said. “Sometimes change is good, and sometimes it isn’t.”

Many of the commenters who spoke in favor of the museum had one unifying slogan—the museum would serve as a “bridge between town and gown.”

“Preservation doesn’t require placing our communities in formaldehyde,” resident Ed Tessier said. “Preservation and growth are symbiotic partners, and I think this project strikes the appropriate balance.”

Many commenters questioned why the College chose that specific location for the museum, with nearby locations such as the southeast corner of Second Street and College Avenue seemingly available. Pomona College President David Oxtoby told the council that multiple locations had been examined, but all had been ruled out either by being too far from the “academic core,” disrupting current college activities or being too far into the college to be enjoyed by the community.

Mr. Oxtoby also stressed that Pomona College will “preserve the Victorian nature of College Avenue between First and Fourth streets.”

“A positive recommendation tonight will truly be an affirmation of the long and vital relationship between the city and the colleges, in the past, today and for the future,” Mr. Oxtoby said.

As the meeting passed the midnight hour, people on both sides of the dais became increasingly restless. The council seemed confused about how to approach the packed agenda item, and received assurances from Ms. Carvalho that they can certify the EIR while pushing the zone change and master plan to a later vote.

“It was packaged all together because that was our recommendation,” Mr. Desatnik said. “But as it worked out, as the evening went on, it was clear it needed to be untangled.”

During discussion, the council wrestled with the implications of both keeping Renwick House at its current location and moving it to make way for a museum that could potentially serve as a destination for out-of-town visitors. Councilmember Opanyi Nasiali and Mr. Lyons were in favor of certifying the EIR and passing the zone change and master plan ordinance, but Mr. Schroeder and councilmember Corey Calaycay expressed reservations about changing the character of College Avenue by moving the house.

After unanimously certifying the EIR, the council split on the zone change and master plan—with Mr. Pedroza, Mr. Lyons and Mr. Nasiali voting in favor and Mr. Calaycay and Mr. Schroeder voting against it.

After adjournment, Mr. Oxtoby characterized the meeting as “democracy at its best,” and praised the public commenters who came in to support the proposed museum.

“I’m confident this will be approved,” he said.

—Matthew Bramlett



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