Residents express concern at size of development

A planning commission review sparked discussion and protest last week as one Claremont neighborhood banded together against a proposed complex to fill the vacant lot at Vista Drive and Indian Hill Boulevard.

Residents of the Wheeler Park neighborhood are teaming up as preliminary development plans begin for the longtime empty south Claremont plot. More than 40 residents of the adjacent south Claremont neighborhood crowded city hall to oppose the project moving forward, unhappy with the layout and design of the complex.

Led by an informal neighborhood committee, neighbor Adrienne Douglas is spearheading the grassroots effort in an attempt to foster the character of her community and its inhabitants.

“What I saw that night was a group of people coming together for a common cause,” she said. “In Claremont we are surrounded by people who know their voice means something.”

Ms. Douglas was working in the garden of her Vista Drive when a letter arrived in the mail. She was shocked to read that plans for a vacant lot next her home, located at Vista Drive and Indian Hill, included the possibility of an expanse of 2-story homes in a complex totaling 26 single-family units.

“It immediately burst my bubble. I began to wonder, ‘who in the world would want to live across from a bustling 26-unit project’” Ms. Douglas said.

Instead of moving, which was her initial fearful thought, Ms. Douglas decided to take action by enlisting the help of a few similar-minded neighbors.

This isn’t the first time the group of Wheeler Park neighbors has come together to protect its own, says Jim Keith, who has lived in the south Claremont neighborhood for the last 38 years.

“When things get so bad that people no longer want to stay, it’s important for other neighbors to help support them and not have things happen that would drive them out whether they be homeowners or renters,” Mr. Keith said. “We want a stable neighborhood, and I think that’s what we all appreciate.”

It was no different with the newest development, which neighbors see as their latest threat to community cohesiveness. The Olson Company, an Orange-County-based housing developer, is in escrow to buy the unused and undeveloped 1.75-acre lot adjacent to the neighborhood. Though no action plan for the lot has been formalized, the developer has expressed interest to the city in filling the space with 22 two-story homes with detached garages. Four carriage units, set atop parking garages, were also proposed as affordable housing options.

Chief among their concerns is the developer’s proposed rezoning of the lot to accommodate a higher density. The city has currently zoned the lot to allow up to 19 units to be constructed. In order to accommodate the project as is, the zoning needs to be changed to one that will allow a greater density. Though the developer believes increasing the density “makes sense with the surrounding area,” residents feel otherwise.

“I’d rather have the occasional coyote walk by then the additional traffic,” Ms. Douglas said, noting that the rest of the neighborhood is comprised of single-story homes in contrast to the 2-stories within the proposal.

The layout, which includes detached garages, seemed inconvenient for potential homeowners, noted Mr. Keith. And the layout, with the backside of the homes facing the rest of the neighborhood, excludes the existing neighborhood.

“It looked to us like a place where people wouldn’t want to stay for very long,” Mr. Keith said. Numerous residents felt likewise.

Holding preliminary reviews, like that of last week’s commission review, are critical in allowing developers to gauge community feedback, said Planning Commission Chair Jeff Hammill, who sees this as a vital resource to the active Claremont community. It hasn’t been the first time residents of the south Claremont neighborhood, informally dubbed “Wheeler Park neighbors,” have stepped before the commission, something Mr. Hammill says he appreciates.

“They are a very active neighborhood group that is willing to sit down and talk,” Mr. Hammill said. “That, more than anything, is important to the developer. A group of people willing to sit down and come up with a compromise that works for everybody.”

Ms. Douglas has grown ever fonder of the proactive stance of her neighbors over the years, always eager to help another. Ms. Douglas and crew gathered 189 signatures within a few days of her canvassing efforts.

“I am so fortunate to be surrounded by many neighbors who are proactive and appreciative of the democratic process,” Ms. Douglas said. “They don’t just sit back if something concerns them.”

But the group’s efforts have just begun. Ms. Douglas and neighbors will wait to hear from the developers, who have expressed interest in including community input in the project design.

“I just want the neighborhood to remain clean instead of crammed with more traffic, pollution and trash,” Ms. Douglas said. “I really pray that what comes out of this situation is the best for all involved.”

—Beth Hartnett


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