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VIEWPOINT: The forgotten property at Village West

 

by Matt Weinberger

When you visit downtown Claremont, you can’t help but notice that large, empty brown plot of land. Fenced in to prevent access, it sits there languishing as hundreds of cars go by every day. Once the Village West Project, it was going to be the next big development for downtown. Almost 10 years later, it is one of the largest undeveloped plots of land in Claremont, in one of the best locations in the city. Has there been an update? What’s going on? Is something finally going to happen?

The short answer … nothing.

How did we get to this point? One of the first articles the COURIER published about the development was on July 20, 2012 when the city council approved the initial development. It was planned as a four-story residential and commercial development with retail on the lower levels, a restaurant space, 140 parking spaces, apartments on the top floor and a rooftop pool, similar in look and feel to the Packing House. At the time, the former Rich Foods industrial building still stood on the site.

The city was eager for the developers to get started. Nothing happened until April 2015, when the COURIER announced the project was ready to proceed with the demolition of the vacant industrial building, followed by the start of construction after the demolition was completed. The old building was razed in June, with construction planned for August. That never happened. It wasn’t until the following summer that  developers were finally ready to break ground.

This is when trouble for the site seemed to begin. A September 2016 COURIER article stated a parking lot was being considered until the owners, Denley Investments and Management, figured out what to do. It would be a temporary placeholder until the new building broke ground. However, the Village Expansion Specific Plan (VESP) allowed for only permanent parking, nothing temporary. Denley also didn’t like the idea, so the parking lot idea was scrapped.

By May 2017, the city had lost patience and voided the project’s approval. After a failed appeal by Denley, the developer simply stopped talking to the city. After roughly two years of failed promises to begin construction, the relationship had officially soured.

There was finger pointing on both sides, but what became clear was that Denley Investments and Management was not ready to build. In an apparent family feud between “Denley president Mehdi Bolour and his son, Denley vice president and project manager, David Bolour, the future of the project seems doomed. David Bolour wanted to move forward with construction, but Mehdi Bolour did not, citing housing market concerns,” said Brian Desatnik, then director of community development.

When asked for an update. Brad Johnson, current director of community development, replied via email that Denley was “unhappy with the city’s decision to remove the entitlements, so their decision has been to let the land sit. The city has attempted unsuccessfully to reach out to the property ownership over the last few years, with no response back.”  To no one’s surprise, according to most of the previous articles the COURIER published about the project, Denley never responded to requests. The same can be said for the present inquiry into the project.

Five years after the last news about the project, there is still nothing new share. The situation remains that there is an unhappy owner who refuses to develop the site or work with the city.

If the owner won’t do anything with the land, can the city simply take back it back? Well, not really. Under California’s eminent domain laws, the property must be condemned and then made available for public use. The lot in question seems to be well groomed — at least the weeds seemed to be trimmed — so it’s difficult to say whether the land is condemnable. With all the other developments in progress in Claremont, including Colby Circle and Village South, this Village West property has become an orphan with no future. It’s anyone’s guess when the best undeveloped land in the city will ever become something other than fenced-in dirt.

 

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