Community Magazine

Hope for Kensington Project Rides on Sierra Madre Voters

By Wonder

Hope for Kensington project rides on Sierra Madre votersThe Sierra Madre Planning Commission held a public hearing on Thursday to straighten out land use details that would help make the Kensington project a reality for local residents.

The commission received feedback from the community regarding the need to vote on the Kensington project and discussed the possibility of making amendments to Sierra Madre’s General Plan and Municipal Code so to move the project closer toward approval.

As proposed by Fountain Square Development West, the 58,000 square-foot assisted living facility presents a challenge to Sierra Madre’s General Plan from 1996. Since the General Plan does not expressly authorize the use of convalescent homes or similar institutions in the commercial land use district, the commissioners attempted to solve how the Kensington would fit into the plan’s downtown area on the 1.84-acre property at 225-245 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard.

Since January, the commission has been debating the definition of the project’s “dwelling units” based on the floor plans of the Kensington, which do not include kitchens. At issue is whether this hybrid project should be designated as commercial, residential or institutional, when considering if it even belongs in the downtown commercial area.

However, there is another issue with local residents. If changes are to be made to the General Plan that would allow for buildings over 30 feet and at greater density (that is, increasing the allowed occupancy rate per parcel), the city would have to amend Measure V, a 2007 law that limits the size of new developments downtown unless approved by ballot.

So to amend Measure V means putting the question before voters on whether or not to allow a downtown project with a density greater than 13 units per parcel. Under Measure V, the Kensington project would only be allowed 23 units without voter approval. But what is currently being proposed for the project is 75 units.

The City Council has already approved a request by the developer in March to let voters decide on the November ballot whether or not the Kensington would go forward. However, the language for the measure has yet to be worked out.

Former Councilwoman MaryAnn MacGillivray pointed out during public comment on Thursday that it would not be difficult to amend Measure V with respect to the two Kensington parcels because the law specifically calls out every single parcel in the downtown zone. But first the commission would need to determine the land use as a blend of commercial and residential to get past the question of whether or not the project even belongs in the downtown commercial zone.

“These are (clients) who come to be here who require services with helping in living and caring for themselves,” MacGillivray said. “So it’s a service industry, therefore commercial. It is not institutional.”

According to MacGillivray, if the Kensington was viewed this way, no amendments would be necessary to the General Plan or zoning, and the commission’s next move would be to make a recommendation to the City Council based on voter approval to make an amendment to Measure V.

“You allow the voters to vote on the changes that would be brought about, amending Measure V on these two parcels only,” she said. “It’s a commercial-residential use, and if you look at it that way, it can be done.”

When speaking to the commission earlier, Fountain Square attorney Scott Jenkins made the same argument, telling the Planning Commission to move past the definition of a dwelling unit by allowing the project to go forward on the ballot for local residents.

“I don’t think we need to resolve (the definition) because we are willing to say: we’ll go to the voters regardless of what a dwelling unit is,” Jenkins said. “We’re suggesting you amend Measure V for just those two parcels to allow this assisted living facility as described in the specific plan.”

Continuing to struggle over the definition of a dwelling unit to almost the very end of the four-hour meeting, the Planning Commission finally voted to determine the Kensington as a commercial use project with an area zoned for residential use in the back.

But the commission withheld approval of the project pending further changes to the developer’s plans, including a request for more commercial space in the front of the building. The commission also noted that there was no further need for them to discuss or take action on Measure V since the City Council had already decided that the project should go to the voters.

“What’s important is we send the best project forward,” commission Vice Chair Bob Spears said to Billy Shields, the Fountain Square developer. “How it’s configured is our concern. (However) it’s not a Measure V issue (for us).”

The Planning Commission will continue the public hearing on the assisted living facility on Thursday, June 7.

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