Developer reveals plans for La Puerta school site
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
Following a long period of relative quiet, the company behind a planned development at the former La Puerta Intermediate School site began to speak publicly this past week, and the community is listening.
The project, La Puerta Claremont by Trumark Homes, includes 65 single family homes ranging from 2,400 to 3,300 square feet on roughly 4,000 to 7,500 square foot lots. Nine homes would include accessory dwelling units (ADUs) of about 700 square feet. The developers plan to make the homes 100 percent solar, creating a net-zero community.
The decision to build 65 homes on the eleven-acre property is driven by a number of factors, including offering homes that the current market demands, while also paying fair market value for the property and ensuring that the project is economically feasible for Trumark.
The plan to build six units per acre is considered low density by the city of Claremont’s general plan, according to the developer—albeit on the top end of the city’s low density designation which is two to six units per acre.
Many nearby residents say that the proposed number of homes is too many for the property size and that the home sites would be drastically smaller than existing lots in the surrounding neighborhood, which is currently zoned for 13,000 square foot lots. In addition, the entire development will be comprised of two-story homes, which residents believe will not complement the existing neighborhood which includes 85 percent single story homes.
Residents also fear that traffic on the main streets adjacent to the property, Forbes and Miramar, will increase significantly and could cause drivers to cut through other small neighborhood streets during peak hours.
In anticipation of community resistance, the developer has conducted outreach through personal interviews with residents and “studied priorities voiced by residents on a plan submitted years ago.” The goal was to ascertain the potential obstacles local residents, and the community at large, might bring up as the plan moves through the approval process.
Trumark’s application was received by the city on July 6 and now must go through the initial evaluation during which staff will conduct a “completeness review” and provide corrections and requests for additional information, Principal Planner Chris Veirs told the COURIER.
The approval process will take some time and will include an environmental review of the site as well as a review of traffic impacts on the local area. Trumark officials told the COURIER that they hoped the La Puerta project would be presented to the city council for final approval by the summer of 2021.
Last Thursday, Trumark’s Vice President of Community Development Eric Nelson held a Zoom town hall style meeting with residents adjacent to La Puerta, during which he delivered a presentation about the appearance, density and features of the development.
Mr. Nelson also addressed six areas of concern that residents expressed as priorities: privacy, tree removal, traffic, density, number of stories and lowering existing property values.
At the end of the Zoom meeting the developers provided an opportunity for participants to raise additional concerns via emails that were then read aloud and answered.
“It felt like a check-the-box type of meeting; they were not very involved. We could not see the questions and they were paraphrasing when [reading some] of them,” Kara Palumbo said. “When conversations are face-to-face it goes much better—that way they hear us and we hear where they can and can’t compromise.”
Ms. Palumbo’s home backs directly onto the proposed development, so she will be greatly impacted by whatever is eventually built there.
She sent a letter to the city to be read during public comment at Tuesday’s city council meeting, asking the city to take into account the residents’ concerns as the project moves through the process.
“I urge you to listen to the concerns of residents of the La Puerta neighborhood. Trumark Homes must propose a better plan with fewer homes and larger lots that will better fit our existing neighborhood and community,” Ms. Palumbo conveyed in her letter.
Project spokesman Steve Greyshock absolutely agrees that face-to-face meetings are preferable to Zoom communication, and said that an important part of the company’s outreach efforts includes meeting with people who already live in the area. Of course, the coronavirus is forcing everything to be done differently now.
Even if the lots are smaller than the existing properties around La Puerta, the homes will be a similar size and Mr. Greyshock said that they made an effort to consider the architecture styles that would best fit in with the neighborhood. He said the average density of the surrounding area is four units per acre, compared to six units for Trumark’s development.
“We tried to match the best we could the character of Claremont and the immediate vicinity,” he said.
For those keeping track, this is the third time Claremont Unified School District has tried to sell the La Puerta property located at 2475 N. Forbes Ave.
Brandywine Homes bid $18.9 million in November 2013; however, the deal fell through after residents complained that the plan included too many—and too large—homes. In June 2015 Claremont Lincoln University offered CUSD $14.35 million for the parcel but again were discouraged by neighbor resistance.
This time may be different, because the state of California is currently trying to find solutions to a housing shortage that is decades in the making.
As a result, reactions from the community have included those who are excited about the extra money for improvements at existing CUSD campuses, as well as those who believe that the land should be used for high density housing such as duplexes or even small apartment buildings.
The developer is touting nine ADUs that are part of the plan as affordable housing because each is a self contained unit with its own entrance. The ADUs would be purchased in conjunction with the larger home on the lot, so it would be entirely up to the new owner whether they choose to make it a rental or use it for another purpose. Still, the additional units could help the city reach its state mandated housing goals.
In a video promoting the project, Trumark says the benefits to the community at large include $13.5 million for schools, $2 million for essential city services as well as a $1 million renovation of the existing La Puerta Sports Park.
The $13.5 million that Claremont Unified School District would receive will go toward capital improvements, including the renovation of the choir room at CHS and new locker rooms at El Roble.
“After extensive architectural review, it was determined that [the El Roble locker rooms] cannot be modernized within the existing structures and meet all current ADA standards, while still accommodating 1,100 students; we actually have to build new locker rooms,” Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Lisa Shoemaker said. “A new building will be more expensive than the original budget included for modernization, so it would not fit within the [Measure G] bond allocation.”
“It certainly would be nice to finally sell the property, benefit all CUSD students and the larger community as well,” Ms. Shoemaker said.
Like her Dana Court neighbor Ms. Palumbo, longtime Claremont resident Joyce Sauter is not thrilled with the current plan from Trumark.
“When I look at the plan, it looks like they are moving the housing from Base Line to La Puerta,” Ms. Sauters said, referring to the townhouses that have been built over the past decade.
She would like the development to look more like the one she bought into more than 50 years ago, with wide lots and low slung, single-story homes. She also worries about increased traffic as well as the strain all the new residents will put on existing infrastructure such as the old sewer system.
Development impact fees, which are standard to any new housing development account for the $2 million Trumark states would go to arts, public safety and parks, among other city services.
To make the plan work, Trumark needed an additional acre of space that encroaches onto the existing La Puerta Sports Park. They have agreed to invest $1 million into modernizing and renovating the park including new fields, bleachers and other amenities.
“I’m not opposed to something being built, we have a dirt lot directly behind our house, so it’s always dusty and it would be better to have a nice house there,” Ms. Palumbo said, but she feels that the lots are just too small and that the development would bring too many people and cars into the neighborhood.
Ms. Palumbo is also a coach for the Claremont Fastpitch youth softball league which uses the sports park for practice and competition. The upgrades the developer is offering would be a huge improvement to the existing facility.
As a booster for Chaparral Elementary, Ms. Palumbo also understands that the schools need the money, too.
“I’m torn because it would be great for the softball program,” she said.