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Residents get early look at plan for Village South

Claremonters packed into the city council chamber Monday night to see the latest on the Village South plan.

The Village South Specific Plan has been in the works since the goals and guiding principles were approved by the council last year. On Monday night, four chapters of the six-chapter draft plan were presented to the standing-room only crowd.

David Sargent of Sargent Town Planning, the agency working with the city to create the specific plan, presented the document to residents.

“Our goal is that we’re successful in distilling the wishes of the community into the plan, then somebody who brings forward a project or projects that are consistent with the plan should get permits pretty quickly and easily,” Mr. Sargent said.

The idea is to redevelop the nearly 18-acre area—situated along Indian Hill Boulevard from the railroad tracks the north, Arrow Highway to the south, Bucknell Avenue to the west and a few properties before Olive Street to the east—into a vibrant, mixed-use southerly expansion of the Village.

“We’re not thinking this is going to be a carbon copy of the Village, but it’s going to have the same central character, scale and quality,” Mr. Sargent said.

Currently, the plan area is an assortment of commercial and industrial uses, with a scattering of residences along the south end of Bucknell Avenue and Arrow Highway. The centerpieces of the area are the Vortox building, which could be adaptively reused, and the former Richard Hibbard dealership, most of which sits empty.

While the public was presented with conceptual drawings and maps on how the area would look, the plan still has a long way to go before being finalized.

Community Development Director Brad Johnson said Monday’s meeting would not be the last opportunity for the public to weigh in—the plan still has to go through the architectural commission, planning commission and the traffic and transportation commission before it reaches the city council for final approval.

That process could take anywhere from six to 12 months, Mr. Johnson said.

In his presentation, Mr. Sargent emphasized Village South’s closeness to everything—existing residential and retail in the Village, the Claremont Colleges, and especially public transit with the Metrolink station and (hopefully) the future Gold Line station.

Commercial and residential uses would vary throughout the site, with more commercial in the north end of the area near the Vortox building, to more mixed-use in the middle of the area, near the Richard Hibbard dealership, to more residential along Arrow Highway toward the Cinderella Drive properties.

Santa Fe Street, the road that currently runs along the tracks, would be closed west of Indian Hill under the plan in favor of more development. Mr. Sargent proposed that the street be moved further south—he called it “New Santa Fe Street”—and have a Harvard Avenue feel, complete with front-facing shops, trees and walkable areas.

Walkability is a major component, Mr. Sargent said. One of the goals passed by the council last year promotes “active mobility,” meaning the area must be walkable, bike-able, safe and comfortable for pedestrians.

Under the plan, Green Street would extend through Village South, bisecting the plan area to meet up at Bucknell and Watson Drive. An as-of-yet unnamed southern street could also be created from Arrow Highway north to Green Street. Pedestrian-oriented “paseos” would also be created throughout the area for more connectivity.

Mr. Sargent also touched on building height, which has already garnered a fair amount of blowback from the community during the planning process.

Under the current plan, buildings fronting Indian Hill Boulevard and Arrow Highway would stay at one-to-two stories. The buildings could get a little higher towards Bucknell—up to four stories at the northwest corner of the area, across the street from the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) student housing.

Mr. Sargent talked about a “density bonus area,” where additional amenities, such as more parking, retail or open space, are offered in exchange for letting developers add an additional floor to a building that’s closer to transit.

The area, he said, is in an “incredibly advantaged position,” close to the existing Village, a Metrolink station and a potential Gold Line station within ten years.

“So within reason, we would suggest you ask yourselves, how many people could live here without making a mess?” Mr. Sargent said.

SB50, the proposed bill currently moving through Sacramento that could gut local control over density and zoning, was brought up during the question and answer session. Mr. Sargent said that under SB50, by right, developers could build housing up to 55 feet in height, if it’s within a half-mile from transit. But he also said that a community could be exempt if it has a pre-existing program to encourage apartments near public transportation.

“So there’s a lot of details we have to work out, but the idea that a community can kind of get ahead of this and catch the wave as opposed to being drowned by it, is there in some form,” Mr. Sargent said. “I think that offers encouragement of what we’re doing.”

Questions from the audience, which were written on comment cards and read aloud by Mr. Johnson, ranged from sustainability to the possibility of net-zero to views of the mountains. One question centered on whether or not the properties have been obtained to realize the planning.

There are currently 15 different owners of the 24 parcels that make up the area, from homeowners in the southwest portion at Bucknell and Arrow to KGI, which owns the Vortox property. Hibbard Properties, LLC still owns the former Richard Hibbard car dealership. King Precision Glass currently occupies the former Garner Glass building, which is sandwiched in between Vortox and the Hibbard lot.

The city of Claremont owns a square-shaped empty lot in the center-south part of the area, almost entirely surrounded by individual homes and offices.

When a question came up about the possibility of holdout property owners, Mr. Sargent emphasized that there wouldn’t be any takeover of properties under the plan. If someone owns a smaller lot, they can redevelop it into a duplex or a four-plex if they wanted to.

“The plan totally allows that and provides standards for doing that,” Mr. Sargent said.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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