Grant helps fast-track development along Indian Hill

After receiving a grant of more than $400,000 in June, the city of Claremont is in the beginning stages of using the funds to develop a swath of land directly south of the railroad tracks.

The project, dubbed the Indian Hill Corridor Specific Plan—formerly called the Village South Specific Plan—currently encompasses 17 acres of land, stretching from Arrow Highway north to Santa Fe Street and Bucknell Avenue on the west to the east side of Indian Hill, according to the grant proposal.

The plan’s wheels were set in motion after the city received a $418,000 grant from Metro on June 30. The grant, which was submitted by the city in 2015, is for “transit-oriented development” near the future location of the Metro Gold Line, a proposed extension of the light rail service through Claremont that, pending the passage of Measure R2, could be completed by 2023.

Principal Planner Chris Veirs told the COURIER that the proposal is still in the early stages, with a tentative planning and environmental impact report (EIR) completion date of September 2017.

The plan is similar to the Village Expansion Specific Plan, Mr. Veirs said. The VESP was adopted in 2001 and laid the foundation for future growth of the Claremont Village.

Like VESP, the plan calls for pedestrian-friendly development that would encourage foot traffic on both sides of the tracks. The grant proposal, which was submitted to Metro in 2014, emphasizes that the funds for the project will “increase the utilization of public transit given the close proximity of the project site to the Claremont Intermodal Transit Center.”

“You want to create multiple activity centers and uses that are in the vicinity of transit and have extended hours,” Mr. Veirs said.

However, the city gave the historic Claremont Depot to the Claremont Museum of Art in 2015 and closed the Foothill Transit Center that was previously operating in the building. Depot bathrooms are closed to the public and bus passes must be purchased from City Hall.

The plan will also include safety mechanisms at the railroad crossings so pedestrians can safely travel back and forth, Mr. Veirs added.

The city had initially asked for a $500,000 grant. Mr. Veirs noted that the final grant amount is smaller than requested, and city money would be used on the project. He did not specify how much the city would kick in for the project or where the money would come from.

The landscape of the area may already be changing soon—Mr. Veirs told the COURIER in June that Keck Graduate Institute bought the Vortox building, and the former Richard Hibbard Auto Center lot is tentatively up for sale.

KGI Assistant Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Esperias confirmed the school purchased the Vortox property in December 2015, and said the property will be used for future school expansion, such as administrative offices. She also noted that KGI will be “working closely” with the city in regards to any future development in the area.

As far as what KGI plans to do with the existing building, Ms. Esperias noted it was too early to give a conclusive answer, but the graduate institute is working with the city to “determine the highest and best use for the property.”

Claremont Heritage Director David Shearer told the COURIER that the Vortox building is historically significant, as it once belonged to Herman Garner, who invented an air-cleaner system for truck engines.

“The building is historic and the city knows that,” Mr. Shearer said. “It’s on our local register and we’re looking into submitting it to the national register.”

Mr. Shearer noted he has been in talks with KGI about specific uses for the property.

In regards to the Hibbard lot, “I think it’s sort of passively being up for sale, but [Mr. Hibbard] hasn’t had the right offer come along,” Mr. Veirs said, noting about 20 potential suitors have expressed interest in the property.

In the grant proposal, the city notes that the Hibbard lot is “crucial to facilitate a cohesive development.”

A phone call and an email to Mr. Hibbard had not been returned at press time.

The future of the parcels along the eastern edge of Indian Hill could change as well, with a few rental properties lassoed into the plan’s perimeter. The proposal notes the area contains “either vacant or underutilized rental properties.”

When asked about the future of the properties, Mr. Veirs noted the vacant parts could be developed and the existing properties could be bought out, the rents potentially raise. The more dilapidated properties could be bought and turned into offices.

“There’s no timetable for that kind of activity,” he said.

Much of the area is zoned commercial-professional, Mr. Veirs noted, which would most likely change when development kicks into high gear. According to the initial grant proposal, there are three different zoning districts within the site—business-industrial, commercial-highway and commercial-professional.

Mr. Veirs noted that development along the eastern side of the Indian Hill Specific Plan would have to be cognizant of the adjacent neighborhoods if they get re-zoned.

“We would allow mixed uses that would allow some residential and retail that would limit the types of uses that would go there,” he said. “So maybe not something loud or open late at night.”

The next step after the city completes its planning and EIR process is essentially selling the idea to developers and homeowners.

“After that, it becomes a process of trying to work with developers and property owners to realize [the city’s] vision,” Assistant City Manager Colin Tudor said. “That’s an ongoing process.”

—Matthew Bramlett



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