While it is true that there is a November target date for this vote, somehow it just doesn't feel like it is getting any closer. There is a degree of frustration beginning to filter into this process. You could see that in the demeanor of Billy Shields as this meeting drew to a close. He was not happy.
The attorney arguing on behalf of the developer for a Measure V vote on this project was Scott Jenkins of the Pasadena law firm Hahn & Hahn. Scott argued that should the ALF be zoned commercial there would be no requirement for a General Plan amendment, nor would there be any requirement for a zoning change amendment either. Which would in effect slice off a big potential chunk of the kinds of shady shenanigans larded into the City's proposed Kensington Specific Plan.
As Jenkins explained, should the project then go forward to the City Council, all that would then remain would be for the ballot language of a Measure V vote to be crafted. The question that would be put before the voters being whether or not they would want to allow density greater than 13 units on only those two involved parcels. Which, by most accounts, would result in a majority 'yes' vote. Those two parcels would then have their paperwork amended to reflect the popular will of the people, and then the Kensington would be built.
This project is popular out there where the sandals meet the sidewalk. You can only hope that the time is drawing near when the people will get to show their support for this project through a Measure V vote.
The Planning Commission responded by voting to not zone the ALF as institutional. Instead choosing to designate the project commercial, with an R3 residential zoned area in the back. Which in effect thankfully cleared out some of the Colantuono and Levin logjams, as there would now be no need to amend the General Plan, or make complicated zoning changes. Which are the detail laden places where the devil has chosen to reside.
If only things had stopped there, things would look a whole lot better this morning.
There were two schools of thought at public comment last night. Both were positive. There were those who took a more emotional route, pleading that the project go forward because it would, by and large, allow Sierra Madre residents to put their elderly loved ones into a care facility that is in town. Many living here do have family in such facilities already, but in places that are far away. This would allow their loved ones to stay in the community, and close to family.
The other centered around the concern for Measure V. Well informed and articulate, these were people who in large part favor the project, but are also very concerned about the long series of contrived City Hall subterfuges that give all the appearance of being attempts to undercut the developer's desire for a Measure V vote. And if so (and by the way I agree with that assessment), it just might be the first time our the current City Hall regime has worked against the wishes of a developer. Again, you really do have to wonder why.
Things went downhill from there, however. Citing the demands of the current General Plan, the Planning Commission began a long discussion about the need to impose commercial overlays onto the project. The General Plan of 1996 is fairly specific about the need to keep the commercial area of our City commercial, and not just another place in town where people live. And this notion has been under some stress as large portions of the downtown area have become Church space. Particularly on the western side of the downtown area.
There is a problem with this, however. Commercial space jammed into the front of the ALF is probably not going to rent, at least profitably. There is no overwhelming demand for shop space in town right now. The ideal of a commercial downtown has been frayed a bit by financial reality. The world does not beat a path to the gates of Sierra Madre in order to buy imported plasticware. And judging by the long availability of some of the currently unoccupied store space in town, that condition has not changed.
This is something that Billy Shields clearly understands. Empty commercial space would cost him money and detract from the operation of the facility itself. Building store space into the street side of this project is not what he is looking for here. And by the end of this discussion Billy had become visibly angry at what he saw as yet one more demand for a redesign of his project.
This was hardly the first time the Planning Commission had told him to make changes in the design of his project. Each time the developer respected their wishes and came back with something new. And each time the Planning Commission then asked for something newer. Shields then asked the Planning Commission that should he choose to go back one more time and redesign the project in accordance with their latest wishes, what guarantee would there be that he wouldn't be asked to do the same thing once again at the next meeting?
For the first time in the process I was left with the feeling that we could very well lose the Kensington project. Billy Shields gave the impression of someone who was seriously considering cutting his losses and walking. He has done everything he has been asked to do, and even showed himself willing to put the Kensington up for the vote demanded by voter approved City law. Yet nothing seems to resolve here. Everyone wants to debate the issues, but it seems that there is no recognition that there is a clock in the room. And that it is getting late.
The next Planning Commission meeting will not take place until June 7. One Planning Commissioner would not be able to make the next two available dates, so all of this was pushed into next month. Which should be time enough for people to reflect upon the potential consequences of even further delay. Most everyone involved in this matter claims to want the Kensington project to move forward. Yet their actions haven't shown that.
This could all go away. And sooner than you might think.