City loses patience with developer of Village West property

An empty, fenced-off plot of land in the middle of Village West is the subject of an apparent showdown between the city and a developer.

The parcel, formerly the home of the since-demolished Rich’s Products, has been owned by Los Angeles-based Denley Investment & Management since 2011. It was initially set to be the home of The Village Lofts, a mixed-use residential and commercial development that was once touted as the final piece of the puzzle in the Village West expansion.

But now, the plans appear to be in danger. After years of delays, the Community Development Department has voided the project’s approval by the Architectural Commission. Denley has issued an appeal, and the planning commission is set hear the case, according to Director of Community Development Brian Desatnik, with a tentative date of May 16.

In a January 30 letter sent to Denley President Mehdi Bolour, Mr. Desatnik presented a timeline of delays for a project that “has seen an extreme lack of continuity and oversight.”

According to the timeline, the city council approved an amendment to the Village Expansion Specific Plan (VESP) to accommodate the height of the proposed four-story building on July 24, 2012. On December 12 of that year, the architectural commission approved the development plan with the caveat that approvals would expire after two years, unless Denley applied for a 90-day extension.

Denley applied for the extension in November 2014, and the commission approved it on December 10, two days before the two-year deadline.

The letter noted that Denley filed an application to demolish the Rich’s building in March 2015, within the 90-day extension, which the city granted. The building was torn down and, since September 2015, a green fence has covered the empty lot.

In September 2016, the city met with Denley Vice President David Bolour to propose placing a temporary parking lot on the site, which would require an additional amendment to the VESP. Denley rejected that deal, noting it wasn’t financially feasible.

Between November 2016 and the end of January 2017, the city said it made “multiple attempts” to contact both Mehdi Bolour, Denley Vice President and project manager David Bolour and Denley General Counsel Areg Sarkissian, but nothing reportedly moved forward. David Bolour stepped down as project manager on January 2, according to Mr. Desatnik.

The city finally issued an ultimatum to Mr. Sarkissian on January 24—if Denley didn’t respond to the city regarding the status of the Village Lofts, the city “would be closing the file on the project,” the letter states.

There was no response, and Mr. Desatnik voided the approvals.

Denley formally appealed the decision on February 10. In the letter attached to the appeal, Mr. Sarkissian denied they violated any provision under code, “since we have always been actively working with the city and the project site to develop.”

Mr. Sarkissian claimed Denley had been waiting on approval of several items from the city, including shades for restaurant space, and accused Claremont of “not providing timely responses.”

Mr. Desatnik noted that Denley had submitted three designs for shades over four years, which were rejected by the city.

“It was in their ballpark,” he said. “We gave them examples of things we approved. But four years is not a reasonable time on a small design element.”

In the appeal letter, Mr. Sarkissian said Denley was “ready, willing and able” to build the project and was waiting on further correspondence from the city. He warned of dire consequences if the city voided the approval.

“This project is not only going to be beneficial to the owner, but also a huge benefit to the city of Claremont,” Mr. Sarkissian wrote. “And by voiding the project, the effect is going to be felt by all parties including the city of Claremont, because the prime downtown location will remain undeveloped for many many years, making the city loses [sic]  millions of dollars in revenue, jobs, costs and making the downtown area incomplete.”

As both sides trade barbs, the fate of the Village Lofts hangs in the balance. Denley still owns the property, but would have to start from scratch if the planning commission upholds the city’s void of project approval on May 16.

“If you decide that you would like to pursue development of this site in the future, any development will be subject to a new development review process,” Mr. Desatnik wrote in the letter.

—Matthew Bramlett


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