VIEWPOINT: KGI and the South Village Specific Plan
by Susan Schenk
There’s a rumor going around that needs to be addressed. The rumor is that the city is keeping the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) out of the loop and ignoring its comments and desires in regard to development of the Village South Specific Plan (VSSP). This is not true.
The city hired consultants to engage with all the people and organizations that have a stake in this project, which pretty much means all of us who live or work here, and that included KGI. City staff have also had a number of meetings with property owners in the area, including KGI representatives.
The city even paused the process when a new stakeholder proposed buying the Hibbard part of the property so they could be included in the discussion. A number of community meetings were held to find out what everyone wanted to see in this plan. I went to almost all of them. Did KGI speak at any? They did not.
After these consultations and meetings, the city staff put together a draft goals and principles document and brought it to the Planning and Architectural Commissions for consideration and public comment. Did KGI speak at these meetings? They did not.
A version of this document was presented to the city council for approval. Did KGI speak at this meeting? They did not. The draft was sent back to city staff to incorporate more of the comments that had been made by the Planning and Architectural Commissions.
A revised version of the Goals and Principles was presented to the city council and finally, at the eleventh hour, after all those opportunities to work with the city and commissions on the document had passed, KGI decided to say something. The council quite rightly approved the VSSP goals and principles as presented.
What is it that KGI, at this late date, is taking objection to? A while ago, they bought the Vortox property knowing that this area is zoned Business Park/Industrial. This means they could use it for tech startups and incubators but not for classrooms. They want the zoning changed to allow them to use it for any educational purposes they desire which would of course benefit them but would take it off the tax rolls.
The VSSP Goals and Principles do not change the zoning to Institutional but they do recommend allowing educational office uses on the second floors of buildings in the plan area. This is in line with the conditional use permits recently granted to KGI so it could occupy part of the building at the southwest corner of Indian Hill Boulevard and First Street in the Village Expansion and to Claremont Lincoln University so it could occupy a building on College Avenue and First Street in the Village.
The public and the commissions were very clear that none of the Village South area should be rezoned Institutional but that it should incorporate some housing and a lot of commercial/retail/industry that would bring in services and revenue to the city.
No one who buys a property has the right to expect it to be rezoned, or that city rules will be changed or ignored because they want them to be. I couldn’t build an apartment complex on my lot, or turn my house into a hardware store. We knew the rules when we bought our house and KGI knew the rules about the Vortox property. Far too much of the city area owned by the Colleges has already been taken off the tax rolls.
Nothing in the Goals and Principles prevents KGI from using or profiting from the Vortox property. But all the law guarantees is that landowners can use their property in ways that were allowed by the zoning when they bought the land.
Nothing will prevent KGI from using it for tech startups or second-floor offices; in fact, using the Vortox property as an incubator hub could be a win-win idea.
KGI is letting it be known that they hope to start a medical school. If they really are serious about this, then they have plenty of land available to them west of the VSSP area, land which was already rezoned Institutional Educational to suit them.
There have been suggestions that they might build the medical school elsewhere or not at all if they aren’t allowed to do whatever they want with the Vortox property.
Although a medical school would be nice, we’ve got plenty of colleges here already so if there isn’t another one we’ll survive. It is much more important to the health and future of the city that the land along Indian Hill connect the different parts of the Village and that it provide funds to support the city, just as the VSSP Goals and Principles intend.
KGI established itself where it is now grudgingly after protesting that the only place it could succeed was on the western part of the Bernard Field Station. Was that true? It has twice as much land as originally expected, it has started a pharmacy school, it is building new dorms and it is planning a medical school, so in the immortal words of the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.”
KGI should try to work with the city and the public so that we all benefit.