Council Gives Thumbs Down to Foothill Project

First published in the Nov. 18 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

The controversial proposal for a three-story, mixed-use structure at 600 Foothill Blvd. finally came before the La Cañada Flintridge City Council and the panel’s stance was in consensus with the majority of stakeholders present for Tuesday’s in-person meeting: the project doesn’t fit the municipal zoning code.
After nearly four hours of presentations, deliberation and statements from city staff and dozens of community members, the council ultimately denied the resolutions that would have amended the city’s Downtown Village Specific Plan and zoning needed for the proposed project — which included 47 senior housing units, 12 hotel units, underground parking and 7,600 square feet for office use — to move forward.
Councilmembers Terry Walker, Keith Eich, Rick Gunter and Mike Davitt expressed a desire to have senior living in La Cañada Flintridge but agreed that it must be done on the city’s terms and development standards. Councilman Jonathan Curtis recused himself from the discussion and decision regarding the proposal because of his financial interest in the project.
“The City Council had zero input on the development standards of this proposed zone, which would have implications beyond this particular development and could have significant impacts on our community,” said Mayor Walker, who was on the LCF Planning Commission for three years before joining the city council.
“If [zoning] changes are needed, we need to make changes but we need to go through the process, taking into consideration what is good for the city as a whole and not just for one project.”
Gunter echoed Walker and added that he is open to the idea of having a document that encourages more development while keeping the original vision of city leaders who helped create the DVSP.
However, amending the city’s general plan takes time, and the council did not want to rush the process, especially for one development.
“There’s no question … our community needs to adapt to change. Changes are coming and they’re here and they always are,” Davitt said. “Look at what our town looked like 30 years ago and what it looks like today. … We need to be welcoming of that and encouraging of it, but as change comes, it’s not a substitute for poor planning. We have to live with the planning.”
Mayor Pro Tem Eich lauded the applicants — LCF residents Alexandra Hack and Garret Weyand of 600 Foothill Owner LP — for their community outreach and work in planning the development, but said the “larger issues” are “not specific to this project” but with the process.
“This project may or may not be a mistake, but I think approving it tonight is probably a mistake,” Eich said. “I don’t think we’ve had sufficient public discourse about it. … I feel like we are creating [mixed-use 3 zone for the development], which would be a mistake that would haunt us for a while.”
The 1.29-acre parcel — the former site of the Christian Science church — was purchased by 600 Foothill Owner LP for $4.2 million two years ago after the LCF Planning Commission rejected a previous plan for a 72-bed Oakmont Senior Living facility. The same concerns from residents then — traffic and other impacts — were raised to the commission when the project was discussed during the summer. The planning commission ultimately agreed to recommend the project and zoning changes to the City Council in September.
City staff also recommended the project, mainly because it would help La Cañada accommodate the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which projects how many new dwellings are needed throughout California and tells cities how many it should be ready to provide. LCF is expected to show it can allow for the building of 612 residential units, though that does not necessarily mean they would be built.
Pat Anderson, president and chief executive officer of the LCF Chamber of Commerce, also backed the project, and asked that the council make changes while it still can.
“The state continues to wear down local control and each year the mandates are more severe, and the housing numbers are higher,” Anderson said. “Let’s do it on our terms and not the state’s.”
Gunter, who previously served on the Planning Commission, assured that the city will meet its RHNA obligation, with or without the project.
“Every single time, we are very careful and very thorough, and we meet our RHNA numbers every single time,” he said. “And the proposed housing element will do so again and with that is embracing some ideas around DVSP.”
Gunter believes there’s room for a project like the one proposed but felt it was “trying to do too many things” by offering senior housing, hotel units and office space.
The council denied the application without prejudice, meaning that the developers can submit new applications with a reduced fee over the next year.
“I hope there’s still an opportunity for a development there, but it’s got to be scaled to a different level and it’s got to meet our current plans that we have in the books — not a new plan created and then fit this in,” Davitt said.