Council approves extension for Colby Circle development, 3-1

After months of meetings and appeals, the city council granted a two-year extension for the Colby Circle townhomes Tuesday night amid protests from nearby residents.

Mayor Corey Calaycay, Mayor Pro Tem Larry Schroeder and Councilmember Jennifer Stark voted in favor, and Councilmember Jed Leano voted against. Councilmember Ed Reece recused himself due to business dealings with one of the parties involved, Claremont Star, LP.

The decision denies three appeals filed by residents Moody T. Law, Irene Meadows and Suzanne Christian after the architectural commission narrowly voted in July that the applicant, Intracorp Homes, could not have avoided delay.

Mr. Law lives on Oxford Avenue directly behind the west end of the 96-unit development. He and his children—Moni Law, Marcia Law LaPierre, Marla Law Abrolat and Douglas Law—have been at the forefront of the opposition against granting the extension, saying the current iteration of the two-to-three story townhome development would negatively affect the family’s property.

The development is seen as the final piece of the puzzle for the Old School House Specific Plan, which was finalized in 2007. Since then, the city has granted five requests for extensions to Claremont Star, LP for the multi-phase project. Intracorp is in the middle of purchasing the Colby property from Claremont Star.

Reasons for the delays over the years include the economic recession and the need to first complete other parts of the plan, including a 280-space parking garage to replace the street-level lot on which the townhomes will be built. 

City Attorney Alisha Patterson told the council the design of the townhomes wasn’t within the council’s purview—the only finding they needed to make was whether or not the delay could have been avoided.

Andrew Behnke, speaking on behalf of Claremont Star LP, told the council the plans were approved in 2007 during the commission process with opportunity for public input.

He stressed that Tuesday night should focus on the timeline between the last extension in 2016 and now. During that time, he said, numerous projects have been started and completed, including the renovation of the east façade of the Old School House, the demolition of the former Claremont Inn to make way for a 30-unit condo building and parking garage, water and sewer line improvements and the approval of the tentative and final tract map.

Mr. Behnke said Claremont Star and it’s general partner, Harry Wu, has “truly brought success to this part of the city.”

“He turned what was a dilapidated commercial center and hotel into a vibrant and successful commercial and community hub that contributes well over $1 million in tax revenue to the city,” Mr. Behnke said.

Mr. Wu told the COURIER he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past three years on requirements from the city and the county.

“It’s very unfair to say that we deliberately postponed or delayed the project,” he said.

The request for an extension has languished in the city channels since April, when it was continued by the architectural commission for more information. It finally passed on July 23 by a narrow 4-3 vote.

Throughout the process, the Laws and their neighbors on Oxford have claimed the specific plan did not properly vet their neighborhood. In his presentation to the council, Community Development Director Brad Johnson clarified what he said were “big misinterpretations” on where Oxford Avenue sat in relation to the project—while the street is to the west of the Colby Circle townhome area, the area is also considered north of the OSH specific plan as a whole.

Attorney Amy Minteer of Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer, speaking on behalf of Mr. Law, said Mr. Law wasn’t asking the city to prevent the development of the townhomes, “But instead to allow outdated 12-year-old plans to expire so that revised and updated plans could be approved.”

This was the only way to get Intracorp to submit new plans and “take all community members into consideration,” Ms. Minteer said. If the architectural plans were extended, there was no guarantee Intracorp would meet with residents for input, nor would the city require them to do so.

“It locks outdated plans in place for two years,” she said.

Ms. Minteer also submitted a video, created by Mr. Law’s grandson, showing old photographs of the Law family and mock-ups of condos looming over Mr. Law’s back yard. The video urged the council to let the plans expire.

During public comment, several residents who were against the extension showed a deep mistrust of the developers.

As she urged the council to deny the extension, Lydia Henry talked about the importance of teamwork.

“Obviously the city and the developers have to work as a team in order to get things done that are beneficial for everyone. I don’t see adequate teamwork from the developer, because we are having to rely on a lot of intentions; a lot of stated intentions from the developer,” Ms. Henry said. “As people have pointed out, they are not legally required to do a lot of these intentions. That’s not good enough.”

The Law family sent suggestions to Intracorp earlier this month, including placing a community center with a gym and a tiny parklet adjacent to where Mr. Law lives, as opposed to a three-story condo building. Moni Law called the suggestions “a reasonable proposal that preserves our dad’s sunlight.”

Mr. Wu said eliminating a single unit could lead to up to a $600,000 loss, and mentioned the development has already been scaled down from 128 units to 96 units. If units were taken out near the Law house, he said, other nearby residents would want the same thing.

“If we do that, the whole Griswold’s condos will ask us, ‘Okay you gave that to the Law family, then we want it along our border,” Mr. Wu said. “So you’re talking about another 20 units that would be eliminated. We just can’t do that.”

Councilmember Jed Leano asked Intracorp vice president Rick Puffer if and when the developer would consider the Law family’s proposals. Mr. Puffer responded he first needed to speak to “shareholders in the project to find out the financial viability and to find out if this is something that we would approach doing.” That process could take up to two months, he added.

Mr. Puffer also said Intracorp has worked extensively with the Griswold HOA and has met with the Law family as well. During public comment, Paul Held, former Claremont mayor and the president of the Griswold HOA, approved of the development.

Mr. Leano was concerned there was no legal requirement for further cooperation between the developer and the nearby residents. There needed to be a way for all parties to come to the table to work out a solution, he said, especially since the Laws have submitted mitigation measures in good faith.

“So until I see that that happens, I don’t know that I’m prepared to approve this yet,” Mr. Leano said.

Mr. Calaycay, Mr. Schroeder and Ms. Stark were sympathetic to the residents, but felt the delay could not be avoided. Mr. Calaycay urged Intracorp to work with the neighbors.

“Try to work to make these 96 units work, but be sensitive and thoughtful of other people,” he said.

Mr. Schroeder made his motion to uphold the decision with hope that the developer will work with the neighborhood and with the hope that the architectural commission “will use everything in its disposal to help with this process.”

After the meeting, Ms. Law said the decision was unfortunate, disappointing and “a missed opportunity to do better.”

She vowed to continue to work toward a favorable situation because it was her job as a daughter to help her father. “We have to do all we have to get a reasonable solution,” she said.

“I’m going to be an optimistic cynic,” she added.

Mr. Wu said he would keep in contact with the Law family and other residents and meet with them in 30 days.

—Matthew Bramlett


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