Here's how the prologue to the handout described the event and its purpose:
The history of Sierra Madre Canyon from the Gabriellano Indians through the heyday of the Carter's Camp era is well documented through the efforts of a number of local authors and organizations. Today's walkabout will deal with what has occurred in the inner canyon and the eastern outer canyon as a result of benign neglect by the City of Sierra Madre, from the City's incorporation through the 1960s, the escalation of property values beginning in the 1970s continuing throughout the 2000s, and declining values as a result of the bursting real estate bubble ... Since 1982 the City has been attempting to put in place a Canyon Zoning ordinance to the General Plan. Why is a Canyon Zoning ordinance necessary you may ask? We'll attempt to answer that question as we walk the paths and streets of the inner canyon and the western outer canyon.
Then our hosts took us on a tour of an area they so obviously love. I don't think very many who made the hike did not come away with a sense of the cultural and historic importance of this place, or how preserving and keeping it safe from predatory development is not an important consideration.
After the tour most of those attending made it over to City Hall for a meeting to discuss what they had just seen, and exactly how to accomplish the goal of saving The Canyon. And, as is usually the case, everyone expected this task to be difficult. After all, isn't that usually the case when matters of this kind come up?
But then Don Watts came up with a solution that set the entire room buzzing. Apparently there is a strong precedent for declaring an area like The Canyon an historical district, one that empowers residents and gives them control over exactly what kind of development will go on in their neighborhood. In a group e-mail that went out Sunday, here is how Don described it:
The idea of an historical/cultural district can be used as a tool for a variety of possibilities. The primary functions of such entities puts local control of development in the hands of the neighborhood, maintaining neighborhood fabric, cultural identity, historic identity, etc. They do not necessarily need to have any specific architectural component, but can be considered based upon the totality of the neighborhood's "personality and/or history."
Pasadena and Arcadia have officially designated neighborhood committees that must sign off or approve all development changes for the areas under their purview. And before the City will accept a plan, the Building department must receive an approval granted by a designated neighborhood committee. Such approvals can include, and are not limited to: Material choices, parking availability, scale, volume, neighborhood character, and fabric.
Once a neighborhood organization signs off on a project as being acceptable, it is given a green light to go to Planning & Zoning, and Building and Safety. This system has been in effect for over 10 years, and seems to work well.
Though for an Architect like me it can be something of a major hassle, it has drastically cut down on McMansions and the break up of neighborhoods. It has turned out to be a tool that can be used to control overzealous and insensitive clients wishing to ignore the needs and standards of the neighbors.
You have to understand, architects walk a fine line between a client and the local regulations, and can be easily fired from a project for not cooperating with the client's wishes. Well written zoning and development laws are critical. developers are smart and look hard and long for any wiggle room in the rules. Which means that neighborhood guidelines must be made clear and defensible.
The Canyon is at a tipping point, and in in danger of losing what character it has left. Here is a chance to make things work.
Isn't it great when a community comes together and arrives at a positive solution, one that empowers residents and preserves the sense of place that makes Sierra Madre such a unique place?
Congratulations to all.