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Sierra Madre Commissioners Sign off on Assisted Living Facility

By Wonder
Sierra Madre commissioners sign off on assisted living facility

Fountain Square Developer Billy Shields speaks to the Sierra Madre Planning Commission regarding construction of the Kensington assisted living facility – Photo by Jim E. Winburn

Planning Commissioners finally approved the project’s Specific Plan and Conditional Use Permit at the end of Monday’s four-hour meeting, which was the commission’s ninth meeting on the assisted living facility, or, what Assistant City Attorney Scott Porter chose to call it, “technically one long public hearing.”

The project now goes to the City Council for review, where it is recommended that council members adopt a Municipal Code Text Amendment that gives the Kensington Specific Plan regulatory authority over commercial and multi-family residential zones in downtown Sierra Madre.

The Text Amendment is required because the proposed two-story 60,100-square-foot construction project exceeds one acre in size at the 1.84-acre site located at 225-245 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard.

At Monday’s special meeting, commissioners reviewed the project’s 48-page Specific Plan and its CUP, going over each page thoroughly in what mostly amounted to clarifying the language of the documents.

One of the biggest issues between the commissioners and Billy Shields of Fountain Square Development West was the developer’s request to allow the use of microwave ovens in some of the assisted living facility’s suites.

The commission argued that allowing microwaves into the suites would give the impression that these spaces were intended for preparing food. The spaces then could be defined as a kitchen under the Municipal code, and this would mean that the suites are not compliant with Measure V, according to Planning Commission Chairman Kevin Paschall.

The commission had already determined at its May 10 meeting that the Kensington facility was primarily residential use with a commercial component. And the commissioners’ reasoning behind this was that the suites in the project are not dwelling units since they do not include kitchen facilities, thus keeping the project compliant with Measure V in their view. However, Measure V does not address kitchen facilities or spaces intended for food preparation.

But according to Commissioner John Vandevelde, the project is facing another problem with Measure V in terms of the allowed occupancy rate per parcel under the General Plan.

Measure V will need to put the question before voters on whether or not to allow a downtown project with a density greater than 13 units per parcel. Under this 2007 law, the Kensington project would only be allowed 23 units without voter approval. But what had been proposed for the project is 75 units.

“I believe there is enough ambiguity with density that regardless of microwaves, this thing needs to be voted on because we don’t know if it qualifies for that 13 units per acre,” Vandevelde said. “These aren’t normal units, and I would say again, microwaves, from an architect’s standpoint, are not essential or critical.”

After the commissioners tussled long enough with the issue on microwaves, Shields stepped up to the podium and said he would agree to the language previously discussed. “We will not provide a microwave (in the suites),” he stated plainly, which appeared to be a gesture on his part to keep the discussion moving forward. However, commissioners did admit to themselves earlier that it would be near impossible to enforce whether or not occupants of the suites would end up using microwaves.

During public comment, local attorney John Hutt advised commissioners to give their best attention to the project’s Specific Plan because this is the key document of concern to local residents. “The Specific Plan is going to be voted on by the voters,” Hutt said. “That’s what people are going to want to know (about this project), what things are going to look like.”

He pointed out that the Conditional Use Permit, if there should be any oversights, could always be amended. However, the Specific Plan is a different story. “The developer would not have to do over the Specific Plan,” he said. “So, I think anything that’s considered to be important should be in the Specific Plan and not left to the CUP.”

Monday’s special meeting was a result of the developer requesting a final decision on the Kensington project. At the commission’s Jun. 7 meeting, the developer stated he was running out of time to qualify a measure for the November election that would allow local residents to vote on the project. The Kensington proposals must still be considered by the City Council in time for a ballot measure to be submitted to the County Registrar for the November election.

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.

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