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Sierra Madre Council Chips Away at Complexities of Kensington Project

By Wonder
Sierra Madre council chips away at complexities of Kensington project

City Manager Elaine Aguilar, and Council members John Harabedian and John Capoccia view a presentation on the Kensington Assisted Living Facility at Tuesday’s City Council meeting – Photo by Jim E. Winburn

Sierra Madre council members discussed the proposed assisted living facility’s Specific Plan and its Municipal Code Text Amendment for the first time since the Planning Commission recommended approval to the council at its Jun. 11 meeting.

Although council members succeeded in clarifying some of the project’s legal aspects, they realized it would be a few more sittings before any action could be taken on the project’s Specific Plan or its Municipal Code Text Amendment. So the council agreed to continue the discussion and public hearing on the Kensington Assisted Living Facility to the next meeting on Jul. 10.

One revelation to come out of Tuesday’s meeting was that the project’s Specific Plan, if approved, could leave the door open for other potential developers to build an assisted living facility on the proposed site at 225-245 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard.

Planning Commission Chair Kevin Pascal was surprised to hear this at the meeting, saying that the Specific Plan was only intended for the Kensington Assisted Living Facility. “The Planning Commission did specifically say that this was just for this project, and that was the wording we asked for,” he said during public comment.

According to City Attorney Teresa Highsmith, the Specific Plan is a legislative action that would apply to any user of the site to which the Specific Plan is attached. “So whoever would seek to develop on a site that’s got a Specific Plan overlay has to comply with all the terms, all the provisions in the Specific Plan.”

Members at the meeting were also surprised to learn that only a vote by the people can make any substantive changes to a Specific Plan once the people approve the plan to begin with. “That was something we did not discuss on the council when we did discuss putting this on the ballot,” said Mayor Josh Moran.

“If you put the Specific Plan to a vote by the people, which is something the council has previously indicated it will do, and then, assuming that the people approve it, then you won’t be able to make any changes to the Specific Plan without it going back to a vote,” confirmed Highsmith, adding that this is the whole point behind a ballot initiative.

The previous City Council passed a resolution to put the project to a vote on the November ballot. Although the project itself cannot be placed on the ballot, an amendment to Measure V can, along with all the project’s legal aspects, including the Specific Plan and the Municipal Code Text Amendment.

The purpose of the Text Amendment is to create an Overlay Zone at the facility’s 1.84-acre site because the proposed two-story 60,100-square-foot construction project exceeds one acre in size. Written and approved by Sierra Madre voters in 2007, Measure V limits new construction in the downtown area to two stories, a height of 30 feet, and a density rate of 13 units per acre.

According to Director of Services Development Danny Castro, if the council decides that the Kensington project complies with Measure V, then staff will begin working on the legislative aspects of the project to put it on the November ballot. The Los Angeles County Clerk would need the language for the proposed ballot item by Aug. 10.

However, if the council determines the project is not Measure V compliant, the City Council will order an amendment to Measure V to be placed on the November ballot. Castro said that voter action would be necessary for “permitting an assisted living facility project as an exception to the 13 building units per acre limit.”

Council member John Capoccia said the council’s greatest concern at this point should be to determine whether Measure V applies or not. “And I was hoping we would get into a discussion of that tonight, because who knows how long it’s going to take, maybe five minutes, maybe five hours,” he said.

The council will continue the public hearing at its Jul. 10 meeting, which, according to the Mayor, should be a more meaningful discourse because discussion will also include reviewing the project’s Conditional Use Permit.

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