City, residents grapple over Colby Circle development

As the decision to grant a two-year extension for a housing project is pushed, some local residents are pushing back.

After over two hours of meeting time, the architectural commission voted unanimously on April 24 to continue the decision to extend the design approvals for the Colby Circle Townhome project, a 96-unit development that is part of the Old School House specific plan, for 90 days.

In that 90-day time frame, the commission wants to find out what their scope is for approving the project’s extension, and if they can approve a conditional extension involving more community input.

If the extension were denied, the design approvals would have expired on May 9, voiding the design of the project but keeping the size and number of units. The 90-day extension pushes back that deadline, city spokesperson Bevin Handel said.

The commission was tasked with making only one finding: whether or not the applicant—in this case Intracorp Homes, which is in the middle of buying the property from Old School House property owner Harry Wu—could not have avoided the delay.

The city has claimed that the economic recession, in addition to the complexities of implementing the entire OSH specific plan, are reasons why it has taken so long.

Senior Planner Leticia Cardoso said that since the last extension in 2016, the former Claremont Inn has been torn down, and designs for a 30-unit residential building and parking garage have been approved, signaling to the commission that work has been done.

That 240-space garage must be completed before construction on Colby Circle begins, the city has said, due to the fact that the Colby project will be taking out two parking lots.

The commission’s task caused uneasiness with some on the dais. Bob Perry said he didn’t have enough information to know for sure that the delays in the project could not have been avoided. Brian Worley claimed that part of the reason why the project was delayed is the commission itself, which delayed approval of the Claremont Inn apartments/parking garage.

Meanwhile, nearby residents are concerned about the size and the scale of the project, which was approved in 2007 and has been extended four times since. At least one former Claremonter, Moni T. Law, has filed a public records request seeking communications from the city about the future development.

Resident Donna Lowe, who lives nearby on Via Zurita, claims the project “doesn’t fit in with the character in the community and the surrounding communities.”

“That space over there, it would just be too densely packed,” she said. “I’m not saying it shouldn’t be developed, it should be. It’s great space for housing. But the density of that will very much have a negative impact on this whole area.”

For Ms. Law, the development would almost pop up right in her father’s back yard. 

The home she grew up in on Oxford Avenue, which the Law family has lived in since 1970, borders the northwest corner of the Colby Circle development. She says second-floor balconies from the planned townhomes would be overlooking her pool.

“You can run to our street and go to our backyard, and you would shake the hand of the townhome neighbor who would be much too close,” Ms. Law said.

At the meeting, 17 people, mostly nearby residents on Oxford Avenue, Via Zurita and the Griswold Townhomes, spoke during public comment urging the commission to deny the extension.

A common theme from those against the development is the call for a new environmental impact report (EIR). Currently, the project has a mitigated negative declaration, a document similar to an EIR that shows a proposed project would not have a significant impact on the environment. Ms. Lowe believes the reasonable thing to do would be to open the project up for another EIR.

“An EIR is our way to push back and say so much has changed, that we do need an EIR done or an analysis done on this project to see what the lasting effects are going to be,” she said.

She pointed to a lawsuit, Friends of Glendora v. City of Glendora, where a citizen group tried to sue the city of Glendora to stop the construction of an assisted living facility that had a modified negative declaration, calling for a full EIR. An LA County Superior Court Judge ruled against Friends of Glendora, according to a December 2008 article on insidesocal.com.

“If they are going to play hardball, I think there are many people in Claremont willing and able to join the fight,” Ms. Lowe said.

Ms. Law also said that too much time has passed since the plan was approved in 2006.

“It’s not even common sense to make a decision based on circumstances that are 12 years old,” she said.

Principal Planner Chris Veirs said at the meeting that not enough information has been received so far from the new applicant that would cause the city to conduct another environmental review.

“We have looked at this carefully with our attorney and feel that at this point, we don’t have the ability to make the findings to re-open the environmental impact report,” he said.

Ms. Law filed a public records act request on April 29, seeking written documents and communications from all parties involved with the project, including documents regarding the extension, correspondence between Intracorp and the city, and any document showing financial interest from city officials, commissioners or councilmembers in the project.

“It’s not like I’m having a specific goal or attack of some kind, its more information that is important for a proper democracy to work,” she said. “And I don’t see it happening in what I’ve seen so far.”

A week after the meeting, Ms. Lowe said she was unhappy with city staff, claiming that they seemed to be working in the interest of the developer, as opposed to residents.

Ms. Law said the extension of the decision for 90 days was better than approving it outright, but the best approach would have been to deny it. The city should respond to her public records request by May 10, she said.

“Contrary to people who say it’s a done deal, nothing is a done deal until it’s done,” Ms. Law said.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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