Basically what the City and those it has hired are attempting to do here is get a plausible sounding work-around that will permit the City Council to approve the plans for the Kensington without having it go to a Measure V vote. This is an attempt to amend the General Plan in order to accomplish just that. Additionally this would create a new order of things that they believe would also give them the authority to approve other such projects in the future. The following details just how they are attempting to do this per pages 30 and 31 of the Kensington Specific Plan Staff Report under Land Use Elements.
Objective L2: Provide for the continuation of existing and development of new commercial structures and uses.
Policy L2.1: Designate an area in the City for commercial development and determine appropriate standards and regulations for new construction.
This is something that Measure V already does. What is being proposed here is the creation of authority that would supersede what the voters enacted in 2007.
Policy L3.1: Allow for new developments or the expansion of existing developments or uses including integrated or reciprocal projects or projects with a common scheme of development which cumulatively comprise over one acre of land or one or more parcels only when a comprehensive plan (master plan, specific plan, planned unit development or other such contrivance) is reviewed by the Planning Commission and approved by the City Council of the City of Sierra Madre.
This then allows for the City Council to approve such a project outside of a Measure V vote. The Planning Commission cannot approve a master plan to redevelop downtown. Each project has to be reviewed individually and voted in by the citizens. The City Council cannot approve a blanket plan for downtown development that undermines Measure V. This can be plainly seen by referring to 17.35.100 of the Voters Empowerment Ordinance.
Policy L3.2: Allow for flexibility in development standards for master plans, specific plans, planned unit developments (Mod: read "mixed use") which provide uses which are considered to be of significant importance to the City such as municipal revenue, historical use, socially valued use, etc when they a) provide an extraordinary benefit to the City such as improved public facilities, community centers, streetscape improvements, park facilities, social services, affordable housing, preservation of historic structures, etc.; and, b) they feature an architectural design which compensates for the flexibility and mitigates negative aesthetic impacts of the project along the sidewalk, street, and adjacent properties.
From the City document:
The proposed Specific Plan that is associated with the CUP application will provide zoning that allows development of an assisted living facility on the subject property and will include appropriate standards and regulations designed specifically for such a facility. The General Plan Amendment will allow institutional facilities such as convalescent and assisted living facilities in commercial districts with the approval of a conditional use permit, consistent with the zoning ordinance and the municipal code text amendment, which will incorporate the Specific Plan into Title 17 (Zoning) of the SMMC in order to give the Specific Plan zoning authority over the property for the purposes of the development of an assisted living or convalescent facility or similar facility only.
The key language here being "institutional facilities such as convalescent and assisted living facilities," along with "similar facility." Just get your project designated as institutional and you would be off to the races. You might recall from last month that the UUT ballot language contained the term "such as the paramedic program." Which basically meant that the money could have been used for anything. You really do need to watch out for anything the City puts out containing those two magic words.
To cut to the chase, what the Kensington Specific Plan would appear to do is restore the power to make development calls to the City Council. Something that the voters of Sierra Madre removed in 2007 due to the abuses associated with the attempt to coerce residents here to accept the highly unpopular Downtown Specific Plan.
To be clear, the 1996 General Plan does call for a Specific Plan on so large a project, but nowhere does it say that an amendment is also required. Plus the independent analysis of Measure V conducted in 2007 in no way says that it is incompatible with the 1996 General Plan.
So why is City Hall rushing to get the Kensington Specific Plan up and running? Because it will clear the way for them to make the call on this project and others to come. Once it is attached to Measure V it changes the dynamic in significant ways. Through the above contrivances it would allow the City Council and Planning Commission to dictate land use policy in the downtown core. Something not allowed by Measure V. This so-called specific plan will open up downtown for high density mixed use development that until now could only have come into existence through the vote of the citizens of Sierra Madre. All you'd have to do is call it "institutional."
As we've said here before, apparently we are paying certain people a lot of money out of our taxes to basically take away our hard-earned right to vote on what we want for our downtown. And for the benefit of interests that have nothing to do with Sierra Madre. This is as bad as government gets.