Affordable housing takes top billing at council meeting

by Matthew Bramlett |

The Village South Specific Plan has yet to be delved into, but Claremonters are nonetheless fired up.

The topic dominated Tuesday night’s city council meeting, with speakers for and against density in the upcoming southern expansion in the Village trading barbs and pleading their cases. Some argued for more sustainable and transit-oriented development and others claimed a denser project would destroy Claremont.

Jim Keith narrowed his focus to Inclusive Claremont, the student-led group advocating for more affordable housing in the city. Members of the group have been speaking at public comment for the past few weeks lobbying for more density in Village South.

Inclusive Claremont, he said, have been advocating for taller buildings and fewer parking spaces, which he said would negatively impact a city already dealing with parking problems.

“These speakers do not say that they will live there themselves, just that they will attract a magical demographic that will happily live in the middle of a suburbia without using a car and who’s visitors don’t bring a car,” Mr. Keith said.

Hugh Cox of Sustainable Claremont noted that a denser mixed-use development located in a walkable neighborhood would be more sustainable and energy-efficient, which would lead to a reduction of vehicle miles traveled.

Jerry Tessier, the president of ARTECO Partners and a part of the Village South development team, decried a petition circulating online against the project and urged residents to refrain from “Fox News-style spin” when discussing the plans.

 “Keep in mind we haven’t even released a development plan, and yet people are attacking our plan,” he said.

The council also approved an amendment to the existing contract with Sargent Town Planners, adding an additional $117,000 in order to complete the specific plan and the environmental impact report.

City Manager Tara Schultz said the amendment was put forth to “cover the additional costs to get us through the project.”

“That team has been working diligently on the project, it has hit a couple of snags along the way, it’s taking longer than expected,” she said. “And as we all know time is money, so that has caused an increase in the cost.”

Those snags include additional work in response to property owners, additional city review of planning goals and principles, and addressing evolving state legislation, the city said.

Public comment on that item, which was pulled from the consent calendar by Mayor Larry Schroeder for discussion, was also contentious.

Kaitlin Morris of Village Partners, one of the lead developers for the project, implored the council to revisit the specific plan, freeing up height and density restrictions, and claiming the stretch of Indian Hill Boulevard adjacent to the project wasn’t a “compete street,” as identified in the plan.

Mr. Keith turned his concerns toward the city, claiming a lack of transparency in figuring out the number of residential units for the project, and to Inclusive Claremont, pointing to the unused Claremont golf course as a location for high density housing.

“Nobody in the audience, none of these students are asking anything of the colleges,” he said. “It’s all to be placed south of the tracks in Village South, which again I foresee there will really be some side effects when we come back after its built.”

Mayor Larry Schroeder noted that the city couldn’t force the Claremont Colleges, who own the golf course, to build on that land. He also cautioned the speakers from using confrontational language to describe each side. 

“We would get along a lot better and go a lot farther if we could be a little more positive and a little more understanding of each side,” he said.

City Attorney Alisha Patterson offered to place discussion about Village South density on a later agenda, and Ms. Schultz told the council it could be put on the first agenda in April.



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