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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

La Puerta development review heats up

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com

The contentious plan to build a residential community at the former La Puerta Middle School site received its first public review Tuesday night during the Claremont Planning Commission meeting.

Although not technically a “public hearing” because the commission was just receiving presentations on the project and would not be taking action, there were nonetheless 165 people attending the Zoom meeting, according to Chair Leigh Anne Jones.

Community Development Director Brad Johnson said holding these types of meetings so early in the developer’s application process is atypical, but the city can choose to do so if a project, like La Puerta, has garnered significant public interest. He estimated that the total application process could take 18 to 20 months.

By far the most controversial and increasingly complicated aspect of Trumark Homes’ proposed development for the site is the plan to annex 1.23 acres from the existing 9.25-acre La Puerta Sports Park. In exchange for extending the size of the development site, Truemark has offered to renovate the sports park and update its facilities, which currently include two soccer fields and two softball diamonds.

The current application incorporates a plan to move the softball fields to Cahuilla Park and restore the full size soccer fields at La Puerta. Trumark proposes to build an all new softball complex at Cahuilla which would replace the somewhat haphazard combination of one baseball and two softball diamonds currently at the park. Building these new softball fields will require extensive grading of the park and removal of many mature trees and passive recreation areas within the park. The major reconfiguration of the softball fields has fostered new opposition to Trumark’s plan from residents who live adjacent to Cahuilla Park.

Mr. Johnson and Eric Norris, a contract planner for the city both reiterated that Claremont’s official position is to leave La Puerta Sports Park at its current size and configuration.

Trumark responded in a statement on Wednesday that much of the additional land it has requested would be “dedicated back to the community” by expanding La Puerta Sports Park soccer fields by more than 20 percent, about 90 feet, adding new practice areas and nearly doubling public parking, all priorities that the company heard directly from the community during its outreach.

The company would also create “Claremont’s first dedicated girls softball facility at a park that currently has fields that cannot operate together (e.g., kids hit into each other). We have learned that there is a deep and real frustration with inequity for girls sports in Claremont. Right now, girls softball fields are undersized, cannot be used at night and are in poor condition.”

“We’ve been encouraged by so many who see the value in expanding sports opportunities in Claremont, and designed these plans alongside Claremont sports and park advocates. But this project remains in the early stages of a long public process. We are committed to a dialogue that ensures this site can bring opportunities and benefits for all of Claremont,” the statement read.

Trumark Homes is requesting an amendment to the Claremont General Plan and approval of a specific plan that would allow the development of 65 single family homes and nine accessory dwelling units on the 10.9-acre site located at 2475 N. Forbes Avenue.

In advance of Tuesday’s planning commission meeting, a loosely organized group calling itself Keep La Puerta Public canvassed the neighborhood around the former middle school leaving a five-page multi-colored flyer on residents’ doorsteps encouraging them to attend the meeting and voice opposition to the development.

The group’s overarching message is that La Puerta, which is currently zoned for public use, is not suitable for housing and should remain public land. They also strongly oppose altering a 99-year lease agreement the city signed with Claremont Unified School District in 1978 which established the sports park. That agreement would have to be altered for Trumark to receive the portion of the park the firm has requested.

Some who received the fliers expressed concerns about the author’s anonymity as well as apparent misinformation, lack of attribution, and “fear mongering” in the text.

“The land grab will be approximately one-third of the entire sports field,” the flyer reads. However, the builder has requested 1.23 acres or thirteen percent of the current sports park, far less than 33 percent which would be just over three acres. “There will be a sports park but it appears it will be owned by the HOA and we think will not be zoned public,” the flyer states, but there is no indication of how they came to this conclusion and it does not appear in any public document reviewed by the COURIER.

The flyer also states on more than one occasion that Trumark plans to build 74 homes, while the plan calls for 65 homes with nine attached ADUs.

Former Claremont Mayor Karen Rosenthal sent an email to the COURIER expressing strong concerns about the flyer.

“The papers dropped at my front door the other day regarding the addition of housing at the former La Puerta school site must be from someone who believes in Trumpian political theory. No attribution, false narratives and fear-mongering. I ignore anonymous political communications and if the person(s) who are trashing the town with these papers can’t or won’t identify themselves why should anyone believe what the papers say?” Ms. Rosenthal said.

On Tuesday, prior to the planning commission meeting, the COURIER reached Maura Carter, whose phone number appears on the last page of the flyer including instructions on how to join the Zoom meeting. She confirmed that she partially authored the flyers but strongly denies that the information is misleading.

Asked about the claim that the developer would take a third of the sports park, she stated that was based that on an aerial photo of the site similar to the one on city documents. She drew a line extending down from the fifth house from the west on Armstrong Drive, which is north of the property, creating a rectangle on the photo she estimated to be a third of the park. She also walked the perimeter of the fence and paced it out.

Kathryn Flynn, who has written numerous letters to the COURIER opposing the development of La Puerta, was also on the call Tuesday. She said that the city had done a poor job informing the public about the development plan in advance of Tuesday’s meeting and so they stepped up to make sure the pubic was informed. “We are not doing anything deliberately false,” she said. “The city should be flooding the public with information.”

She strongly opposes any effort by the city to break the lease with CUSD and believes there is no reason the city council should even consider voting on the matter.

Asked about the claim that the sports park was going to be in the HOA, she said that it appeared that way to her and referenced a document that she said she got from the city that shows that the developer asked to rezone the entire site, including the sports park.

Mr. Johnson said the developer was simply describing the site in the document referenced by Ms. Flynn, which they are required to do because it is one parcel, but their goal is to subdivide as noted in the specific plan.

“Anything that suggests we have requested, or plan to request, a zone change on the entire park area is unequivocally false,” Project Spokesman Steve Greyshock said on Wednesday.

During the planning commission meeting, which went late into the evening, the overwhelming majority of voices during public comment opposed the plan to alter the sports park. Many called for the former school site to remain zoned as public with ideas including expanding the sports park or building a nature or cultural center.

Of those who supported some type of housing on the site, many called for the density to be similar to that of surrounding neighborhoods at three houses per acre as opposed to the six houses per acre in Trumark’s proposal.

Other residents including those from the grassroots housing advocacy group Inclusive Claremont opposed the development because the density was too low. Longtime Claremont resident Andrew Winnick was one of those voices and referenced the Housing Element. The city is currently working on the compulsory update and the requirement that Claremont plan for low and very low income housing. Mr. Winnick said La Puerta is a prime area for building some of those units.

“We don’t need more million dollar houses,” he said. “And frankly we don’t need the people that come with million dollar houses.”

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