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By Jim E. Winburn
The Kensington assisted living facility project is proposed for the former Sierra Madre Skilled Nursing Facility site at 225-245 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard. – Photo by Jim E. Winburn
Last week the Sierra Madre City Council injected enthusiasm and purpose into their discussion of a downtown development project that showed signs of struggling under bureaucratic indecisiveness.
Council members responded in earnest to public concern over the Kensington assisted living facility by working with developer Billy Shields’ proposed ballot language to draft an amendment to Measure V that would exempt the project’s two parcels from the law’s density restrictions.
Density is a key issue of concern among residents watchful of downtown development. With the project headed to the November ballot, residents will approve or reject an amendment to Measure V that restricts density to 13 dwelling units per acre downtown. Fountain Square Development West is proposing a 75-unit project at the 1.84-acre site located at 225-245 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard.
But the City Council has much business remaining on the project, continuing the public hearing to Tuesday, Jul. 24, when members plan to vote on the Specific Plan, the Text Code Amendment to the Municipal Code, as well as the project’s Conditional Use Permit.
However, some residents who attended last week’s meeting on Jul. 10 plan to pick up where they left off at public comment – especially because the Kensington is anything but a done deal.
Not only are people concerned that the council must abide by the law by placing the Measure V amendment on the ballot, but residents want to ensure its proper language. Residents are still wary of bureaucratic impasse that may return to questions such as whether the Kensington is Measure V compliant or whether an amendment to the measure actually needs to go to the people for a vote.
During last meeting’s public hearing former Sierra Madre Mayor Kurt Zimmerman expressed his frustration with city staff’s interpretation of Measure V, which claimed the initiative’s density limits do not apply to the Kensington because its rooms do not have kitchens.
“Neither the letter nor the spirit of Measure V support such an error in interpretation,” Zimmerman said. “Indeed, to find otherwise would conflict with the intent of the voters as articulated in Measure V’s findings: preserve the small town character in downtown Sierra Madre and afford those same voters with a say on major decisions affecting their downtown.”
Citizens are well beyond these questions, and they expect to keep the council on track, saying, unequivocally, that the Kensington does not meet Measure V’s density requirements.
“This project demands to go to the vote of the people,” said resident Gary Hood. “Mr. Shields, who is with the Kensington group, has even asked in a letter to have this project put onto the Nov. 6 ballot. Anything short of letting the people vote on Measure V will definitely cause legal action and a delay that will be costly to all parties concerned.”
Debbie Sheridan explained the importance behind a Measure V vote: “We citizens of Sierra Madre worked hard to get the truth to the residents against nearly $200,000 put up by the ‘No on Measure V’ people who predicted dire consequences if it passed,” she said. “Andy Griffith died last week. Let’s keep our version of Mayberry alive.”
Another resident, who said she has followed the assisted living project since its first presentation over a year ago, vocalized her discontent over the project’s lack of headway.
“This project has been like a moving target,” said Leslee Hinton. “It’s like playing whack-a-mole: its suites vs. dwelling units, and its institutional vs. commercial, and its kitchens and its garbage disposals; but what it comes down to is a proposed project, as I am hearing from the council now, that does not comply with Measure V because it does not meet the density requirements.”
Pat Alcorn said the answer was simple. “No matter what you label the rooms: suites, dwelling units or bedrooms, it’s clear that density does not conform to Measure V,” she said. “I fully support this project, and let’s get the show on the road!”
Former Mayor MaryAnn MacGillivray thanked Shields and his associates for their willingness to work with the community on the ballot language for the Measure V amendment. “It’s just too bad we couldn’t have truncated this long ago,” she said. “Taking those parcels out and giving them exception was discussed as far back as when Mr. Shields first asked for a resolution to put this on the ballot, and we have extended it this far.”
Shields, the last to speak at the public hearing on Jul. 10, accepted both residents’ active discretion and vocal support for his project. “All of this is about density, and we acknowledge that,” he said. “This is not a traditional project. Once we get pass the density, it’s easy to get excited about being able to bring something to the community after hearing some of the personal testimonies of people who have dealt directly with the needs that assisted living can bring.”
The next Sierra Madre City Council meeting takes place 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jul. 24, at the City Council Chambers, 232 W. Sierra Madre Blvd. The meetings are also televised on local cable television on Channel 3. For more information, visit the city’s website at www.cityofsierramadre.com.