The Altadena Land Use Committee -- rather than give a thumb’s up or down to a North Lake Avenue building moratorium -- kicked the can to the town council instead.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the LUC heard spent over an hour listening to comments and discussing the idea, pushed by Neighbors Building a Better Altadena, that a temporary moratorium be imposed on commercial development above 15,000 square feet.
Barbie Ishida of NBBA told the LUC, “We are in support of a temporary moratorium of large scale commercial development in the Lake Avenue corridor to avoid having big projects get underway while community standards are still being reviewed by the town council’s Community Standards Committee.”
(NBBA’s proposal will only affect North Lake Avenue. Another local anti-Walmart group, SaveAltadena, has been pushing for a separate, county-wide moratorium on big retail chains.)
The Community Standards Committee is currently working to update the rules governing business and retail buildings in Altadena, which were last updated in 1986.
Tuesday night’s plan was for the LUC to send a recommendation to the council to approve or disapprove of a moratorium, but in the end they punted. The committee went with a motion by LUC member Bernardean Broadus, who is also the Town Council chair, that the matter be sent to the Town Council without a recommendation in order to get more community input at the Feb. 19 town council meeting.
The temporary moratorium proposed by NBBA would in fact only affect one property in Altadena: the vacant lot at Lake Avenue and Calaveras Street.
One property affected
And that’s the issue, according to the Charles Company’s Gene Detchemendy, who told the LUC, “This is not about upgrading the [Community Standards District], this is about direct discrimination against my client. There is only one project that is above 15,000 square feet, that’s my project. It ‘s the only one this whole moratorium is about.”
Detchemendy said that his clients had owned both properties for nine years -- since then, he said, they realize “what a very bad business decision it was to buy business properties in Altadena.” After detailing several attempts to develop the Lake/Calaveras property, he said one anything that is proposed, “we’ll have 50 people [at a hearing] who say ‘I won’t like it.’”
Detchemendy said that he attended last year’s round of community visioning meetings, and based on that and the existing community standards, they created a plan to develop the property that met all existing standards. The plan -- presented as a series of elevations and a site plan to the committee -- has passed through all of the county planning bodies so far, he said, and a moratorium would be unwise:
“It cost me $200,000 just to get here, and I haven’t even put a stick in the ground," Detchemendy said. “And now I hear the community wants to put a moratorium on development. I don’t think it’s fair. I think I should have listened to the owners, who said ‘these people in Altadena, no matter what you do, you’ll have 50 people against you'...
“If you force us to be in an antagonistic state -- this is about a landlord trying to get his money out of the building. He spent nine years trying to figure out a way, and we finally followed every rule you had, and still as a community you stop it. We don’t think it’s fair ...”
Support for moratorium
But most of the speakers during public comment - not all of them wearing NBBA T-shirts -- supported a moratorium while community standards are being revised. Some -- including Mark Goldschmidt, chair of Altadena Heritage -- pointed out that the Gabays let the properties go derelict during their ownership.
The original bank building on Lake and Calaveras “was actually ‘let go’ for a few years, before it was burned down by some vagrants that were living there -- that’s how it was kind of taken care of,” Goldschmidt said. He also expressed doubt that community opposition to previous development plans was that powerful. “I’m sure the people from the Coffee Gallery couldn’t have stopped you” from putting a Starbucks on the property, he said.
While Detchemendy did not say that Charles Company was developing Lake/Calaveras for Walmart, he did say that the rumor of it had a positive effect on the supermarket next door to the site: “At the shopping cener convention last week, I talked to the Ralphs representative. Ralphs had just approved an image upgrade to the [Lake Avenue] store based on rumor of competition ... The rumor that I may be leasing to a particular tenant, and that’s why we’re here, is the reason Ralphs will be giving an upgrade to this store.”
(Thanks to all of you who caught the typo in the last paragraph -- it's been fixed!)