Wednesday, January 15, 2014

It's On - The Great Sierra Madre McMansion War

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"Size matters to the Planning Commission." - Robert Ho

What an interesting evening at the City Council meeting. I have to say it, John Harabedian and John Capoccia stepped up their game considerably and stood tall for the laws, ordinances and codes of Sierra Madre. Not to mention the wishes of the people these two so ably served last night, many of whom were on hand for the action. You can only wonder what would have happened had our 2004 City Council, the one that effectively turned One Carter over to an incompetent developer incapable of doing much more than cutting down ancient trees and killing the wildlife, showed some similar backbone. We likely wouldn't still be going through any of this today.

However, I do feel that we need to bring the elephant in the room out into the open so everyone can appreciate it properly. If you strip away all of the polite planning jargon about massing, square footage, curb cuts, along with most everything else gets said in those circles, and then boil it all down to its core essence, the view becomes much clearer. What we are talking about here are some very large and quite ostentatiously designed houses.

I call it Adele Chang's Dilemma. How do you build McMansions that don't look like McMansions? You can't. No matter what the design style, or where you place the garage, or how you reconfigure the roof, or bedeck the place with curlicues and cornices, or shuffle the massing, or even bring in a small gaggle of winged gargoyles and lawn gnomes, the result is still going to be one heck of a big barn.

Adele Chang's absurd and vaguely patronizing cosmetic design changes won't ever make a bit of difference. Nor will her describing these things using words such as "understated" or "cottages." No matter how many times the plans are redone, we will still end up either allowing these jumbo boxes to be built on one of the most visible hillsides in town, or we won't.

And that is where we are going with this. While it is pleasant enough that everything was remanded back to the Planning Commission for some sort of future subcommittee architectural review, the end result will eventually be the same. Do we allow McMansions at Stonegate or not? Do we deal with the hard questions realistically, or do we just continue this increasingly absurd process?

Will we ever actually just say no?

If you want to get a little politically incorrect, let's see if you can live with this. We are talking about a clash between two differing cultures here. On the one hand you have the traditional version of Sierra Madre. A place where people are comfortable with what they have today and don't view house size as a measure of their personal or spiritual worth.

The culture Adele Chang and her CETT bosses cater to, on the other hand, is a nouveau riche arriviste' sort crowd who somehow believe that building a vanity castle on the side of an open hillside will be recognized by all of those living below as a sign of an innate personal superiority. It is a form of unchecked clodhopper consumerism that most people living here today do not respect or care to live beside.

I do not believe there really is any room for compromise here. CETT wants to sell McMansions to its boorish clientele. For them it is where the big money is. Most of the people now living in Sierra Madre do not want that here. Remanding things to the Planning Commission is really little more than a delayed date with reality, and in the end this will all likely end up in the Courts anyway.

That is, of course, if our city government doesn't eventually capitulate first. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that happened.

The funniest moment of the evening came when John Capoccia was pressing Adele on why these houses have to be so big, or so lavishly endowed with lavatories. He took the 5.5 bathroom riff a step further by asking if the people who might buy these McMansions could handle the long walk having only three rest stations in the house might cause. Something that was met with considerable laughter in the room.

To Adele's defense up jumped CETT's somewhat starchy attorney, Lawsuit Richie MacDonald. Pushing his way to the podium, Lawsuit Richie sternly rebuked John Capoccia for bringing those comically overpopulated bathrooms into the mix. Apparently in his mind this was in conflict with the serious tone of the evening.

Which is, of course, the real issue here. If Adele the Architect and her CETT overlords would just shrink these houses down to a reasonable size, they would quickly get their approvals and be able to start building them shortly after that.

But they can't do that. It will not result in the highly profitable McMansions that they believe their potential customers will pay lots of money to live in.

In other words, they are never going to compromise on anything. And some fine day the City of Sierra Madre is just going to have to tell them no.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

109 comments:

  1. The pads are too small for houses larger than 2500 ft. At 4000 ft the "setbacks" are nonexistent. They need to regrade if they need to go larger.

    Regardless, the elephant in the room is that we are one good public high school away from becoming Arcadia. Just ask a Realtor.

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    1. Koerber made an excellent suggestion on that topic, 6:23. Combine lots. That would solve everything. Oh, except the profit margin the investment corporation is trying to squeeze out of the place.

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    2. I hope not.

      The awful thing is that the City will end up in court having to spend hundreds of thousands of (non-existant) dollars fighting this kind of development off.

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    3. The capitulation of principles out of fear of lawsuits has not served us well.

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  2. I don't think it's a culture clash that makes the applicant hear one thing while the city commissioners and councilmen have actually said another. I think it's a willful misunderstanding.

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    1. Yes! When the architect was told by the commissioners to drive around and look at the diversity in Sierra Madre housing, she returned with a power point of every big house she could find.
      "Diversity" was changed into "big"

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  3. It took a long time for the MacMansion disease to get here, but it's here now, and the community will have to decide if it wants this mega house suburb in one big clump at the north of town or not.

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    1. 6:35 there's no guarantee that it will stay at the north of town.
      If big boxes are allowed up there, there won't be anything to prevent them from popping up everywhere else.

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    2. it's not a box...it's a triangle.

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  4. Attorneys' fees will bleed the developer faster than they will bleed us. After all, city revenues are climbing with property values. Time to hang tough.

    PS: revenues are rising with property values. Vote no on the uut.

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  5. It was quite a performance by Mr. Ho, who at one time was in the unfortunate position of trying to sell the lots and somehow ended up owning two of them. He emphasized that there are big homes in Sierra Madre, but neglected to include the size of the lots in his evaluations.

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    1. Did he pay himself a commission?

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    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    3. I think he actually sold one lot, but the deal fell through. Something about the buyers being able to build much more elsewhere for far less money.

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  6. Good to see John Buchanan there last night. I guess he wanted to see how things were going. After all, he was on the 2004 city council that caused this mess.

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    1. What on Earth was he there for?

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    2. Was he with his council member in crime, Stockly? They were the guys who overrode the planning commission and allowed this absurd lot division to take place.

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    3. Maybe Buchanan is one of those guys with a morbid need to return to the scene of the crime.

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  7. That meeting was weirdly managed by the mayor. Why was public comment taken when the applicant wasn't there to hear it, and why was the lawyer prevented from saying "We agree" until after the break? Weird choices, and they made it hard for people to know what to say when. Glad the council members had done their homework. Waiting for Walsh to give them the right opening could have taken all night.

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  8. Excellent title Tattler. Quite true.

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    1. Kudos and thanks to those who showed up last night, and especially those who spoke. If you weren't there, please follow this "war," and come to the next Planning Commission meeting when this will be discussed. Often I urge Tattlers to show up to let City Council know we care, but it is imperative that as many as possible show up to show Mr. Ho WE CARE and he won't win this, even with his threats of a lawsuit. He actually had the nerve to say (I'm paraphrasing) that he is a homeowner in Sierra Mardre, albeit his "home" is in Arcadia. Councilmember Koerber called him out, saying (again paraphrasing), "Oh, yes. You purchased lots 1 and 9,
      didn't you?" All four Councilmembers were spot on, especially Harabedian and Capoccia (Mr Ho, "Councilmember Kapooki is it?") They deserve our thanks, even though they did kick this back to the Planning Commission. Time is certainly money for Mr Ho and his crowd. Kudos also to Teryl Willis, who asked from the podium why Ms Ching (architect) and Mr. Ho left to confer at the beginning of public comment, and missed it all.

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    2. Great comment 8:04 and I agree, but a few name clarifications: CETT Investment Corporation is a woman named Hui Ru Han and she owns 23 lots. Her archetect is Adele Chang, with an "a", and the realtor Robert Ho is just an owner of two lots.

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    3. Hui Ru Han's business is buying distressed assets. She must have gotten a pretty good price on that mess.

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    4. I hear if Stonegate falls through it all goes back to the bank.

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    5. Thanks for the correction, 8:22. So what is Mr Ho going to do with his purchased lots (a rhetorical question)? One of my friends told me that Ho is a developer, who is responsible for many of the massive houses in Arcadia. Is this true or not? Ms. Chang spoke about her "friend" who no longer lives in Sierra Madre who worked for the City who told her that these houses are typical of our town's architecture. Uh, huh. Same thing she repeated at the Planning Commission meetings. Who is this person (another rhetorical question)?

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    6. I was told by a realtor that Robert Ho was seen as a realtor who didn't handle high-end stuff. The realtor speaking put it more harshly, but that was the meaning.

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    7. 9;15 your realtor friend does not know Robert Ho very well , if that is the kind of info you get from him you need a new realtor

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    8. 10:14, not a realtor friend - a realtor acquaintance who, unlike Mr. Ho, actually dealt in exclusive properties.

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  9. Yea, and Gene Goss was there too, seated next to Teri Buchanan and Toni Moran. I wonder what his stance on the UUT will be?

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    1. And none of them had anything to say. Not a peep.

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    2. Goose wanted to show his concern about this important issue.

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    3. Ya think that's what it was? They were there as a politicking opportunity?

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    4. If so it backfired. They looked quite marginalized.

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    5. If it was an effort to make their candidate known to the community, the candidate should have participated.

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    6. If Goss wanted to show his concern about the One Carter issue, he could not have found a worse person to be seen with.

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    7. I agree about Goss being there...did he not have an opinion? Makes one leery of what he would do as a Councilmember if he won't even speak up as a private citizen who has a stake in what gets built on our hillside (as we all do). John Harabedian, John Capoccia, and Chris Koerber all spoke up on this issue before they were elected.

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  10. Just what happened in Arcadia, buy two or three lots and make one huge mother of a Mansion.

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    1. Beg to differ 7:52 - Arcadia squeezes Starter Castles on one lot. Take a drive down Second Avenue and prepare to be amazed.

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    2. 7;52 Arcadia divides lots if they can for more houses , I doubt if many or any were combined

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    3. Take a look at the lot one house up from Grand View on Camillo. One house was demolished, and two are being built. Guess who the purchasors are....

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    4. 1;206 I think that was 2 lots with one house on them , you take down the house and you have 2 buildable lots

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  11. the catch with the planning commission sub committee is that those three people will now be expected to create, along with architect Adele, homes that are acceptable. I don't think I'd want to be on that committee.

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    1. The term "sacrificial lambs" does come to mind.

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    2. Imagine the frustration of trying to communicate with Build 'em Big Chang!

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    3. Adele carries the burden of people not agreeing that she is always right.

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    4. That's why we've got to attend the Planning Commission meetings. Don't let Teryl Willis carry on this battle by herself.

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    5. It is not the job of the planning commission to help an architect design a home. This is just a way to coopt the planning commission so that they are in agreement with the proposal. Hard to turn it down when 3 of your members have already approved of it. This is a bad idea. And definitely hats off to Teryl Willis for all her work. And she is not the only one who will suffer if this junk gets approved. Welcome to the Sierra Madre of the future. Be careful. You can't fix it once the harm is done.

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  12. As I recall way back when all this started, it was envisioned that each of these lots would be sold to individuals who would then design and build their own unique dream home. I don't think it was in the plan that some developer who owns the bulk of the lots would come in and build. but that is what's happened, so of course, all these spec homes are going to look rather similar. too bad.

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    1. I remember the same thing. I think we were told that the homes would be individual, custom homes.
      These are not.

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    2. You are correct

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  13. Chang and Associates were the architects on Anoakia, the gated community of tract mcmansions on Baldwin and Foothill.

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    1. Thank you 8:34 - That's what we'll get if we're not vigilant....probably just a matter of time before the gate and gatehouse goes up too if Chang and gang get their way!

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    2. Keeps the Sierra Madreans out.

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  14. Anoakia here we come.

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  15. Forming a sub committee is a very bad idea. It is not up to our volunteers to design their houses. Their attorney who was on the Pasadena Planning Commission and Adele should be able to read and understand the guidelines. If our Planning Commissioners help with the plan this will definitely force the full PC to accept it. How can you vote against something that you helped design? Should the Planning Commissioners that help with the plan be required to recuse themselves from that meeting? The only way to make a big house look smaller is to make it smaller.

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    1. 8:57, wow, I think that's true - if the commissioners participate in the design, they'll have to recuse themselves.

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    2. It was the applicant's lawyer's idea

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    3. I am afraid that we are looking at a process ploy here. Rather than say no, the city has set off on a long and winding road that can only end in a bad compromise.

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    4. Actually, the planning commissioners have the option to form a sub committee. The council remanded the plans to PC with a suggestion/recommendation that they form a sub committee. The PC could say "no". That's actually what they did with Meglia. Recall at one point in his approval process a planning commission member asked Meglia if he expected the commission to design his house for him. Meglia was at least honest when he said he would take all the free information they would give him.......

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    5. If it is a sub-committee they could meet out of view of the public, and when they were ready, they could make their proposal to the whole committee without recusing themselves. .

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  16. I wish I was independently wealthy. I would buy all of those stupid One Carter lots, and convert the whole place into a park. Sierra Madre just does not need more houses.

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  17. I can understand the concerns with oversized developments, but the people in Sierra Madre are too resistant to change. Let's face it, without Measure V, we'd have more revenue coming in and less of the city with their hand out all of the time. The north Arcadia HOA that my dad's good friend controls, has kept oversized development out for the past couple of decades, but he's getting ready to retire from the position and there's a handful of 4-6,000 sq ft houses going up. It's only a matter of time before that number begins to increase geometrically. There are a lot of tear down dumps of houses in SM that I would like to see demolished. A lot of people up here don't maintain their properties properly and it detracts from an upscale feel from a community with prime real estate. The city can try to fight this movement off with non existent funds, but eventually things will begin changing. As a side note, those three houses that were put up on the South side of Highland West of Lima by Jim Lebeck look great and blend with the community perfectly. I'd be a big fan of more of that type of implementation here.

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    1. Maybe this isn't the right town for you then. Move to McMansionized Arcadia. I hear one of the big sports there is seeing how many bathrooms a person can use in a day. Seeing what you are full of, I bet you'd be a fierce competitor!

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    2. Not up-scale?! God forbid.

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  18. The Tattler is correct. This is a culture clash. As one Carter goes, so goes the Monastery Housing Project and so goes Sierra Madre as it turns into Arcadia. That is the reality. Different cultures have different tastes. Most people moved to Sierra Madre because they like it being a kind of funky town with eclectic architecture. Drive down particularly to the Southern part of Arcadia. Almost every older home is being torn down for a McMansion. One persons hideous monstrosity is another person's taste and status symbol. While some on the City Council did a pretty good job last night, remanding it to a sub-committee that is not subject to the Brown Act is a prescription for disaster. Its a classic divide and conquer. Once those few on the sub-committe negotiate a deal behind closed doors it will be impossible when it comes out in the open forum for them to change their mind on what they advised the developer to do. I say, let's keep it all out on the open so the public can observe, keep an eye on it and comment on it. Finally, I must say the comments by the Citizens of Sierra Madre were powerful, moving and poignent about the character of this town that they want to preserve. The Mater Dolorosa housing project will be the next dominoe to fall unless a line is put in the sand somewhere.

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  19. Tell your daddy that Sierra Madre is not Arcadia. It's nice to see that you got a good education here in the United States, but please don't come in here calling our citizens homes "dumps". A little more respect, please. You like Arcadia, stay in Arcadia!

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  20. Agreed 9:16. Those houses Jim built work because they fit the lots and the community. Moreover, they are properly set back from the street.

    Similarly, the 4000 foot houses they are building on huge corner lots in Highland Oaks work. They fit the pad and are amply set back.

    The Ho houses do not fit. Ho cannot complain if he is permitted to build 3000 square foot houses as was Jim on Highland.

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  21. Quit picking on 9:16. I like Sierra Madre. Hell, I love it. But let's face it. Part of its charm is that there are lots of houses that are, frankly, dumps. Moreover, there are lots of citizens that are personally dumpy. You know who you are. Old guys with pony tails and beer bellies hanging out downtown. Women with flowing grey locks. Like refugees from the Haight. You dumpy folks - like purple wisteria dumps scattered about town - are local color that make the town super AWESOME!

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    1. I am not surprised that this level of animosity can be found in those who support the McMansion projects.

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    2. When do the concentration camps open, 10:13?

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    3. Welcome back, Steve. Still depressed that Josh & Nancy aren't running?

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    4. 10:13 ~ sorry, but there's only one way to say it, you are a royal idiot...

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    5. Might be a little too nasty for Steve. Could be Ahlswede.

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    6. 10:22, add to that level of animosity the level of superficiality.

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    7. A searing hatred of our town.

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    8. I marvel at the smallness of the mind of 10:13.

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  22. Guess the starter castles are the latest planned phase of Kingdom's to be built?
    When there was real money to spread around there would be two or three lots bought up and staked out for the magic castle in the sky development company.

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    1. Ya think Robert Ho really intends to build and live on one of those 2 lots at 1 Carter? he CAN'T WAIT to flip those lots for big $$.

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    2. No, you're wrong, he loves Sierra Madre, he loves the neighbors. He said so.

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  23. The McMansions in that picture look like mausoleums. Or skulls.

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  24. Inching toward design review? A slippery slope...

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  25. The Sierra Madre Water Paying Customers Need To Return Their Water Ballot Protest Letters ASAP. These Protest Ballots Need to be Signed and Returned to City Hall!

    Did You Return Your Water Protest Ballot?

    All Protest Ballots Failed To Be Returned Are Counted As a YES - Which Results In More Water & Sewer Costs!

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    1. I'm with Koerber. I'm not sending in a protest. I'll vote to kill the UUT instead

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    2. We should not send in a protest ballot . and not file for BK, all 5 members voted for the increase

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    3. You need to reduce your blood pressure!

      KAREN...Our finance director has stated time after time,
      at the city council meetings...

      1) the city wants more money - more revenue...

      2) the more money - more revenue will be used to "BORROW"
      more "LONG TERM DEBT - MONEY"

      3) this is not good for any Sierra Madre Residents!

      4) the city needs to reduce spending!

      5) read the city web site...
      the city has $20+ <Million dollars to spend each year!

      please send your Water Protest Ballot In.....

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    4. At least 3 of the 5 city council members are yoyos!

      I would not be proud to be associated with any of them...

      would you ?

      I agree... send the water protest ballots in

      the city needs to reduce spending!

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    5. Yes, the city needs to reduce spending. Vote NO on the UUT. But the city also needs to keep the water department viable. Don't return your ballot.

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    6. Please stop the double space

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  26. Was watching Bucanhan wince when council of 2004 was being held accountable. His legacy along with that council is coming to fruit as we speak.

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    1. Between Buchanan and Doyle it is a wonder we still have a town.

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    2. It's been a constant struggle - and I'm not sure about the future. We may be both broke and mansionized pretty soon.

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    3. Better get ready! Big house proposed for 258 Ranch Rd. (Between Sierra Madre Blvd and Orange Grove, below San Gabriel Ct).

      6,440 square ft., single story--talk about lot coverage!

      On Planning Commission agenda for Jan 16. Asking for variance for combined side yard reduction. What?
      Who needs a house that size and if the lot will hold some thing bigger that 4,000 sq ft (the max allowed without needing a variance) why the heck would you need to go closed to the side yard lot line that the required minimum.

      Talk about greed!

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    4. What a shame. Hope the planing commissioners turn them down and make that thing conform to each and every regulation. Looks like a great big lot.

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    5. It is a huge lot and it is single story and it will pass

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    6. And it's Rancho Road.

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  27. Have the EENERS looked into whether McMansions are sustainable or not? Seems like their kind of project.

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    1. One of the members of the EENER commission read a letter to the council last night. It was by far the best speech against the MacMansions that was given.

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    2. Then dammit those EENERS should meet on this and put out a report explaining why these McMansions are environmentally awful!

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  28. Maybe start a fund to defend lawsuits...there is a non-profit tax deductible vehicle in this town exactly for that kind of thing

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  29. This has everything to do with lot coverage. As said we are allowed up to 4000 square feet on a lot about 11,500 feet. We have a coverage of 35%, once you get over 4000 square feet you are required to obtain a variance.

    There have been projects in the city which allow more than 4000 square feet on a lot but often those are lots that are larger than the 11,500.

    The city has to watch out as if it has approved projects that go over these limits in the past, someone can take the city to court on reasons of arbitrary approval. The city has to be fair to its citizens and if they allow one person do build larger than the code allows they have to let others.

    From what I have read these lots are not that large and the developer is asking for higher than 35% coverage. At Anokia on Baldwin the lots are often 1/2 acre, and thus have larger houses than 4000 square feet. Different cities have different coverage requirements. In San Marino you could have houses larger than 10,000 square feet but on a large lot. We are not Arcadia and in that town you can see how houses are built to the edge of the property lines. That is not what we want in Sierra Madre.

    Personally I do not think it is bad to have a large house, but you better have a large lot to keep the character of the town. Density means profit for a developer, and they want to make as much money as they can. I am sure that they are targeting these houses to those who would want a huge house - either for vanity or a large family. I do not care, but I find it offensive when some come into Sierra Madre and want to change the character to what it is not.

    One nice thing about Sierra Madre is that the houses are different. It does not look like a master planned community. We have very lax standards for appearance of houses, but we need to stick to the lot coverage that makes this city unique.

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  30. Lets put it in a different prospective!

    YOUR DAUGHTER HAS A BIRTHDAY!

    YOU... THE WATER PAYING CUSTOMER JUST PAID AN ADDITIONAL $400.00 FOR THE WATER & SEWER RATE INCREASE...

    NOW YOU LOOK YOUR DAUGHTER IN HER DARK BLUE EYES AND TELL HER YOUR $400 WENT TO PAYING FOR "HER SEWER EXPENSE"

    GIVE ME A BREAK!

    WAKE UP & SEND IN YOUR WATER RATE PROTESS BALLOTS!

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    1. Please stop the capsand double space , I am sure I am not the only one who skips your posts when I see them

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    2. Perhaps Mr. Caps computer is broken and he can't type in lower case. Give him a break. Although I no longer read an all caps post because it gives me a headache to read all the shouting.

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  31. If you want a mansion you need a mansion sized lot. This is not Hyde Park, London, England (where the wealthy are cheek to jowl) or Orchard Road, Singapore (check that out if you want to see some really nice tropical "bungalows" done in the colonial style some are trying to emulate here but don't have enough land area to pull it off. Mansions by Mursol would work with about 2-3 times more lot space.

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  32. Didn't see Sierra Madre listed as where a arrest took place, must have missed him?

    After contacting the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, they alerted colleagues in the United States, Australia and the Philippines. The coalition began a global investigation recording online conversations between the offenders and their financial transactions.

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  33. Ya know what puzzles me about the big push in Sierra Madre to cram big houses on inappropriate lots? It's a fight - it's going to be fought. So why not go buy a lot 3 miles to the east, south or west, instead? Build as huge a house as you want.
    It must be that Cett Investments got a such a good deal, that they are trying to force it here. But anyplace else in the San Gabriel Valley would be easier.

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