Not all happy with latest Village West development

A proposed 50-foot mixed-use building with retail and residential space may be the final piece to complete Claremont’s Village West.

The proposed property, vying to take over where the vacant Rich Products Corporation building currently resides, was given unanimous approval from the Claremont Planning Commission Tuesday night. The vote gave the project developed by Denley Investment and Management Company the supermajority needed to pass on a favorable recommendation to the Claremont City Council. The council will cast the final vote, expected later this summer.

If the development moves forward, it will fill in the final vacant parcel in Village West with a 4-story structure and internal parking garage as well as an adjacent 30-foot structure. Tentatively titled “The Village Lofts,” the project is geared at fitting the “urban environment” Village West’s expansion plan originally called for, which ultimately why the commission voted in favor.

“This is an attempt to make a viable city reemerge in a time when densities are increasing,” said Commissioner Martin McLeod. “We are trying to manage those densities intelligently, and the flexibility that this project is proposing is wonderful.”

The 1.66-acre parcel will include retail and live/work spaces on the first 2 floors, with residential apartments and a rooftop pool on the top 2 floors. A restaurant is proposed for the first floor of the building at the corner of Oberlin Avenue and First Street. A parking garage with 140 spaces will also be included, though 61 of those will be reserved for residents of the building. The adjacent 30-foot structure will include 5 two-story live/work spaces, similar to those found in The Packing House.

The commission’s recommendation comes nearly a year after the project came up for public discussion. The planning commission first reviewed the project at a meeting in July 2011. The traffic and transportation commission reviewed the traffic and parking situation at a subsequent meeting in April.

In addition to its approval of the overall concept of the Village Lofts development, the commission granted permission to change the maximum height of buildings typically allowed in the city’s commercial mixed-use zones. The new development will be allowed to exceed the usual 3-story or 40-foot maximum. The building was originally approved by the commission at 45 feet, but in order to accommodate the last level of the vertical, mixed-use design, an additional 5 feet were needed, according to Chris Veirs, senior planner for the city of Claremont.

“It’s very expensive to build that kind of construction if you couldn’t pencil it without that extra level,” Mr. Veirs added.

The city saw the change as a viable solution partially because the vacant parcel is the last available in this particular zone, which includes The Packing House, according to Mr. Veirs.

The height of the building was already alarming to some residents at 45 feet, let alone the new addition, which represents a nearly 20 percent increase from the typical allowance.

“It’s not entirely fair to ruin one person’s mountain view just to give another a mountain view,” Jason Ryan, a resident of the Village Walk townhomes, told the commission in July.

Those present on Tuesday also remained concerned about their residences being overshadowed by the large design: “I’m concerned about the sunlight,” said Anna Cook, who grows tomatoes on her Village Walk patio and said she rarely gets enough sunlight as it is.

Though Gwen Carr recognized the mountain views are not protected, her main concern was over-saturating Village West with retail space.

“I can almost count the vacant shops that we have,” Ms. Carr said. “It bothers me, worries me, that we will maybe have more vacant shops.”

Fellow Village Walk resident Karen Hall agreed, hoping city planners would consider a bowling alley or miniature golf course to appeal to Claremont’s youth instead of adding more retail shops.

“We need something for these kids to do. Instead of empty businesses, let’s talk about the recreational and leisure skills of Claremont,” she suggested.

Despite multiple suggestions for recreational space, Commissioner Brenda Barham Hill said that the use of space for recreational purposes, though desired by members present, was unfortunately not an option.

“I would love to see a park there, would love to see a soccer field there…but the fact of that matter is that this planning commission has to respond to proposals that are presented to it by developers,” Ms. Barham Hill said. “Using that property for some sort of open space, recreational space, is not an option that is being presented to us at this time. It’s a great idea, but it’s moot in the context of this proposal.”

The live/work concept of the project will allow heightened flexibility for the developer and tenants should market challenges arise, added Commissioner K.M. Williamson. “I think that’s a very smart way to go for this project,” she said.

Her fellow commissioners agreed.

“Giving them [developers and tenants] the opportunity to make it retail or live/work is really important,” Mr. McLeod said. “This is an attempt to go back gracefully to more flexibility for the businesses.”

—Beth Hartnett


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