The Planning Commission called a timeout Tuesday after listening to more than four hours of testimony about the proposed Oakmont Senior Living project during a jam-packed meeting.
Commissioners agreed that they needed more time to consider the project before deciding whether to approve or deny it, or even whether to request Oakmont take any specific actions. For now, discussion of the matter was continued to a date uncertain.
“I heard a lot tonight and learned a lot tonight,” Planning Commission Chairman Rick Gunter said. “Studying this project is a lot of work; the various reports were literally hundreds of pages. I need some time to think about what I heard and absorb it. I don’t know exactly what do at this moment. I can’t give a snap decision, I’ve just got to go back and read it again.”
Ken Kidd, Oakmont’s vice president of site acquisition and development, seemed satisfied with the decision.
“Thank you very much,” he said after listening to the community debate the plan. “I appreciate everything you had to say tonight.”
Oakmont’s proposal details a request to construct a three-story, 72-bed, 78,117-square foot senior living facility and a 2,348-square-foot church on the 1.29-acre parcel at 600 Foothill Blvd., where the First Church of Christ Scientist currently sits.
At this week’s Planning Commission meeting, Oakmont Senior Living requested approval for a conditional use permit, variances related to height and setback requirements and a tree removal permit to remove six existing trees, at least two of which were expected to be relocated and incorporated into the new landscaping.
In her report, Susan Koleda, deputy director of community development, recommended that the commission approve Oakmont’s requests. She said the proposed project site is listed as “institutional” within the city’s General Plan, a designation that permits among various uses, “residential retirement facilities that provide onsite medical support and care.”
Steve Del Guercio, a former mayor, councilman and member of the Planning Commission, said city staff was misinterpreting what’s permitted in the General Plan and the Downtown Village Specific Plan, which he helped establish.
He said staff failed to take into account the maximum permitted floor area of an institutionally designated project. The “maximum intensity,” Del Guercio noted, is .35-to-1 floor area divided by lot area.
“OK, so if you did that math, you would come up with a permitted floor area ratio of 19,667 square feet,” Del Guercio said. “[The proposal] is some 60,000 square feet greater than what’s permitted under the General Plan. So if you make the finding that it’s consistent with the plan and there’s no conflict, you’ve got a huge conflict right there.”
Neighbor Michael Gross likened the Downtown Village Specific Plan to the U.S. Constitution, suggesting “it should be read and reread often, lest we forget what it contains.”
But in remarks later in the meeting, Commissioner Jeffrey McConnell said he thinks the Downtown Village Specific Plan needs an update.
“We have a responsibility to move the city forward, and when I look at the Downtown Village Specific Plan, created some 20 years ago, I look at it as an out-of-date plan, personally, and one which is constructed with hard limitations that do not recognize the reality of our physical environment and the changing nature of the world,” McConnell said.
“I [am] anxious for our upcoming zoning code reform to make some changes to the Downtown Village Specific Plan, to allow this body to have greater flexibility to understand the reality of the project sites and the needs of the community in a way that I think will de-emphasize the need for so many variances.”
For now, some residents are balking at the Oakmont structure’s proposed height, which would block some homeowners’ views of the San Gabriel Mountains. Measured at 48 feet 6 inches from the lowest point at the entrance of the subterranean parking lot to the highest point of the structure, it requires a variance because it exceeds the city’s 35-foot limit.
Residents also disputed the number of staff members and visitors that Oakmont said it expects to be on site at one time. They expressed concerns about additional parking and traffic issues at Woodleigh Lane and Foothill, a corner that’s already so tricky many said they don’t let teenage drivers in their families turn left there. And there was a question about whether the city should do a more thorough environmental review of the project.
The project also had some supporters, including those who pointed out LCF is lacking senior living options. According to Koleda, there are only two senior living facilities operating in the city, serving only 12 people between them.
“[This project] would allow seniors to stay within their community and participate in their community and not be so isolated as they get a little bit older,” Lisa Brownfield said. “And it’s not on a residential street; it shouldn’t have to look like a residential facility.”
Pat Anderson, CEO and president of the LCF Chamber of Commerce, also spoke in support of the project, complimenting the Oakmont personnel she’s met, saying she’s impressed by their expressed dedication to the LCF community.
“The other thing, this will provide jobs, and chambers of commerces are always sensitive about local business and business in general,” Anderson said. “The fact that they have already taken steps to meet with a couple of our local businesses that could provide services to them says a lot about their wanting to be a part of our community.”
Gross said he isn’t so sure the facility will offer everything Oakmont promises it will, including a village-like atmosphere.
“I don’t begrudge their attempt to make profits; aging boomers like myself are one of the fastest growing demographic in the world,” Gross said. “Providing us with dental implants, facelifts, Medicare supplements, ocean cruises, vitality enhancing drugs, reverse mortgages and senior living is big business. It’s what I call the senior industrial complex.”