Trumark proposes to build 91 units at La Puerta site

The former La Puerta school site, proposed home of a future Trumark Homes development. Courier photo/Peter Weinberger

by Andrew Alonzo |

A day after the City of Claremont published a revised draft of its sixth cycle Housing Element at on April 4, developer Trumark Homes informed the city of its plan to pursue an updated “builder’s remedy” plan for La Puerta, the approximately 10-acre site of the former middle school on Forbes Avenue.

The revised builder’s remedy plan seeks to construct 91 housing units, adding four additional units from the previous 87 unit builder’s remedy plan, which Trumark submitted in April 2023, and reorienting attached homes to be adjacent to La Puerta Sports Park. This new plan, which maintains the former school site’s existing boundaries, is 35 units more than Trumark’s 2021 proposal of 56 single family homes.

A letter from Trumark’s Vice President of Community Development Eric Nelson to city and Claremont Unified School District officials read in part, “These additional 35 units will be comprised of 20 single-family homes and 15 multi-family units and will bring the project in closer alignment with the City’s most recent version of the 6th Cycle Housing Element. They will also help the City achieve its state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals.”

California is requiring Claremont to plan for 1,711 new housing units that cover extremely low to above moderate income levels. As of last month, 160 new housing units in Claremont have been permitted for 2021 to 2029, the sixth cycle planning period.

Asked why Trumark decided to revise its original 87 unit plan, Nelson explained the new plan builds more homes at better prices and is more consistent with the city’s vision for the property.

“The City’s strategy for North Claremont is to seize opportunities presented at the few remaining vacant sites in Northern Claremont to promote housing mobility,” page 109 of the revised April 4 housing element reads. “This approach includes both planning for higher density development at the La Puerta site and introducing the ability to develop smaller-sized lots with single-family residences and [accessory dwelling units] where previously only large-lot single-family development was permitted.”

The news of a revised proposal did not surprise Claremont Community Development Director Brad Johnson. He said what came more as a shock was that Trumark “chose at this point in time to go to the builder’s remedy.”

Johnson said he believes the new 91-unit plan is the project that is most likely to go forward.

On the city’s website, Johnson wrote, “Rather than continue to work through the community input process, Trumark has chosen to use state housing laws to pursue a project that would expedite the approval process and limit or eliminate public review.”

On Tuesday Johnson offered this: “I don’t think they were trying to bypass any public input or public review. I think what they were trying to do is have a placeholder, backup plan for if the 56-unit project wasn’t approved by the city. So, if that plan wasn’t well received by the city and they were stuck without a project, they would fall back on this backup plan of builder’s remedy.”

With the 56-unit project apparently on hold, Trumark is likely to pursue the 91-unit builder’s remedy plan. If that transpires, the city would have to go back to its previous draft environmental impact review for the proposed 56-unit project and revise it to accommodate the larger project, Johnson said, adding that city staff will be able to build off the existing draft EIR, saving time and resources.

Nelson said Trumark’s preferred plan is the 56-unit proposal. “However, the current framework of the city does not allow that 56-unit plan,” he said. “We cannot proceed with that plan based on the current rules. And so, what we’re proceeding with is an alternative to that which we are more than happy to build.”

Despite chugging along in the years after the 56-unit plan’s 2021 submittal, Nelson said the city changed the rules mid-game when it not only significantly increased the project’s in lieu fees, but altered land use regulations at the site to allow for denser housing projects.

Nelson said the changes have “basically made it impossible for us to move forward with the 56-unit plan.”

“What could be built there based on the new housing element is far more than what we’re proposing. What we’re proposing however is consistent with the city’s current housing element, which where they’ve designated this as a higher density site that would allow for up to 30 units to the acre,” Nelson added. “On the back of a napkin that’s about 270 homes.”

According to Nelson, after Trumark filed its first builder’s remedy application in 2023 to get to 87 units, it held talks with the city with the hope of maintaining the original in lieu fee, roughly estimated at $30,000 per unit in 2021, when the 56 unit plan was submitted.

Asked about why talks on the in lieu fees have stalled, Johnson said he didn’t perceive it that way.

“I was under the impression we were still working … with the developer to put this request in front of the City Council in a public forum to broadly talk about any past approvals of housing projects that were submitted and applications deemed complete prior to the revised formula for the in lieu fee.”

But when Claremont updated the in lieu fee schedule for its inclusionary housing ordinance in 2023, that in lieu fee number shot up drastically.

“This recent change has increased the fee to $148,000 per unit,” Nelson wrote in a 2023 email. “Obviously, this change is a deal killer for us and any other housing projects that would be proposing to pay the in-lieu fee.”

“As far as the In Lieu fee calculations for the old formula versus the new formula for the 56 Unit project, that calculation has not been completed by the City,” Johnson wrote in an email following our interview on Tuesday. “Although Trumark has claimed they have those calculations, the City has not performed those calculations or verified the developer’s accuracy of those calculations. The new formula is a formula that is based on the number of affordable units, both Moderate and Low. I do not have the timing for you yet on amending the Draft EIR technical studies and re-work of the document for a project with 35 additional homes. I can provide that at a later date once the City has completed discussions with our Environmental Consultant team that prepared the Draft EIR.”

Asked why the fees saw a drastic surge, Johnson said they were just outdated numbers and were raised to reflect what it would actually cost to build a unit.

“We should likely have been updating that every few years,” Johnson said. “I believe our ordinance actually requires a five year update, a five year look at those fees, and we just had not updated them in so many years that we felt it prudent because the old fees came nowhere close to actually being able to construct the units. So, it was just time.”

In Claremont, in lieu fees have only been accepted for partial units, not for the entirety of all the units.

“Let’s say you had to build 4.5 units, rather than build the half a unit, the city would allow a partial unit payment,” said Johnson. “The city’s never accepted a full in lieu payment for all the units.

Without having the in lieu fee issue resolved, Nelson said Trumark has two paths it can take: walk away from the project altogether, or proceed with the latest proposal.

If necessary, Trumark will utilize the builder’s remedy provision of Senate Bill 330 to break ground on its new 91-unit La Puerta plan, Nelson said. Builder’s remedy allows a developer to streamline the approval process of a housing project so long as the developer sets aside 20% of the units as deed-restricted low income affordable housing and that a city’s housing element is noncompliant at the state level at the time the application was filed, which Claremont’s was in March 2023.

Although Claremont is in the midst of getting its sixth cycle housing element finalized, even state approval cannot stop Trumark from pursuing a builder’s remedy plan because the initial application was filed when Claremont’s housing element was outdated.

“While it is disappointing that we could not proceed with our collaborative vision, we also recognize the importance of maximizing La Puerta’s full potential in building critically needed homes, including more affordable ones, for Claremont families,” Nelson wrote. “Trumark Homes remains committed to working with City officials and staff, CUSD and our local neighbors as these plans move forward.”


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