Council’s rejection of easement puts future of Larkin Place in limbo
by Steven Felschundneff | [email protected]
Claremont City Council has dealt a setback to the developer seeking to build affordable housing for formerly homeless people by refusing Jamboree Housing Corporation’s offer for an easement across Larkin Park.
In a meeting that ended two hours Wednesday morning, council rejected, by a 3-2 vote, the proposed 24-foot by 275-foot easement in the park’s easternmost parking lot. . Council members Corey Calaycay and Sal Medina along with Pro Tem Mayor Ed Reece voted no.
“Throughout Larkin Place’s outreach and community development process, we have been inspired by the passionate support of the Jamboree and our development by the majority of Claremont residents. Additionally, we are grateful for the diligence and expertise provided by city staff,” said Marissa Feliciano, Director of Marketing and Communications for Jamboree.
“During the June 28 city council meeting, it became clear that several members of the city council expressed a desire to violate state housing law. Nonetheless, Jamboree will continue to work with Larkin Place supporters as we continue our mission to create safe, affordable and just housing opportunities,” she said.
The easement was an integral part of the “Preferred Location Plan” which incorporated gradual increases in building mass from two to four storeys and featured open spaces for residents to congregate as well as common patios. The easement would have allowed future tenants to access a rear parking lot from the existing park land, removing the need for a long driveway on the property.
In exchange for the easement, Jamboree agreed to make approximately $700,000 in improvements to the Larkin Park parking lot, including widening the existing driveway, constructing a north end turn, installing of five lampposts and the resurfacing and relining of the lot.
Linda Mawby of Safe and Transparent Claremont, the main opposition group at Larkin Place, said the organization opposes the easement because it would create danger for people using the park.
“The safety of our elders and our children is more important than the aesthetics of a building,” Mawby said, referring to the alternate site plan that some have called “the box.”
Jamboree proposed to build a permanent 33-unit affordable supportive housing complex consisting of nine studios and twenty-three one-bedroom apartments, as well as a two-bedroom management unit on site. Future residents would be very low-income people, those whose income is at or below 30% of the region’s median, who are currently or at risk of becoming homeless. Additionally, tenants will have some type of disability which could include mobility issues, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness or addiction issues.
On January 25, the city council voted 4 to 1 to provide the Jamboree with a $1.5 million loan from its Successor Housing Fund to help pay for Larkin Place. A day later, the preferred site plan, including the easement, was approved by the Claremont Architectural Commission.
“The approved design using the access easement allows for a superior design of the proposed development through improved massing and scale, increased open space and increased landscape areas,” according to the staff report prepared by City Manager Adam Pirri.
But three city council members didn’t see it that way, with Calaycay voicing opposition at the start of the hearing over the height of the four-storey building. He referenced a recent city survey that found many residents say they enjoy Claremont’s small-town vibe. He called the approval of a four-story building a “slippery slope” that could lead to taller structures in town.
Calaycay said he was not going to have his vote hijacked by the state, referring to the project’s “entitled” status and a letter sent to the city of Claremont by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, commonly referred to as HCD, warning that refusing the easement could violate the state’s affordable housing law.
The city has warned that denying an easement could violate state law
“Because the easement was imposed as a condition of project approval, denial of the easement may amount to disapproval of the project. As defined in the [Housing Accountability Act,] “disapproval” of a housing development project not only includes outright disapproval of that project, but also includes “any land use approvals or fees necessary for the issuance of a building permit” , said the head of Shannan West’s Housing Accountability Unit with HCD in the letter.
The town’s special counsel, Thomas Clark, disagreed with West’s assessment because the easement was not an existing access road and the agreement between the town and the Jamboree involved considerable negotiations and a complete overhaul of the parking lot.
“It’s completely discretionary and I think HCD probably didn’t have all the facts when they expressed their opinion, and I think with those facts they would conclude that he is not subject to the law on housing responsibility,” Clark said.
Claremont City attorney Alisha Patterson had to recuse herself because Jamboree is also a client of her law firm, Rutan & Tucker.
One of the most controversial aspects of Larkin Place has been its proprietary status, which means that many decisions about what is built are beyond local control. Jamboree officials, including director of development Michael Massie, have long maintained that the company prefers by-in to by-right. However, the company recently confirmed Larkin Place’s legal status and repeated that assertion at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“The Jamboree declarations of entitlement are another example of how they have changed their position. They were quite willing to portray themselves as “a good neighbor” and not consider this project or any of their projects “as of right”, as stated at one of their community meetings; yet when that is compromised, their stance changes,” said Mawby of Safe and Transparent Claremont.
Council Debate on Easement
During deliberations, Medina focused on the disparity between the South Village Specific Plan approval process, which took years and included extensive public participation, and Larkin Place, which he felt seemed to have been pushed.
“Does a four-storey project with difficult access to transport correspond to the neighborhood where we are? And whether it is or not, again, has this process been circumvented in order for development to progress? I will try to choose my word wisely here. Village South, we don’t seem to have the same advantage for this developer. This development seems to have a very long process, a very extensive process [and a] high level of communication, he said.
“You are right, [about] Village South Specific Plan was years and years of community involvement. But that was to come up with a specific plan, all while changing the zoning from industrial use to mixed use. So, [Larkin Place] is not a zone change and so that is part of what makes it completely different,” board member Jennifer Stark responded.
Reece said he struggled to make up his mind, including losing sleep. He listened to others, including city staff and the developer, even conducting his own research by driving to Larkin Park to observe the rush hour parking lot and came to the conclusion that he was unsure to turn it into a driveway for a housing project.
“The basic facts here are that this project is legal. It is another basic fact that at some point in the future there will be affordable housing at 731 Harrison. It is a basic fact. Whether we approve of this easement or reject it, Jamboree will build housing there,” Mayor Jed Leano said.
Mayor Leano expressed empathy for how his colleagues might feel about state housing laws making their jobs more difficult. However, he stressed that the council must be clear about the possible consequences of its action.
“The result of our refusing the state housing law and not granting this easement is [that] we get a rectangular box on Harrison Avenue. And how are you? asked Leano.
After the council voted the easement, the hall erupted to cheers from naysayers in Larkin Place. However, their celebration may be short as the Jamboree focuses on alternate site plans and moves forward.
Asked Wednesday morning for clarification, legal counsel Clark confirmed that Jamboree could simply select the alternate plan and proceed with development without further eligibility process. Tuesday’s public hearing could be the last time the city can weigh before Larkin Place’s grand opening, as long as the project objectively complies with state law and the city makes no health findings. and public security to the state.
The legal standard for proving that a project poses risks to public health and safety that cannot be mitigated is quite high, and city staff have argued since the first hearing that the city cannot meet this requirement. .
On Wednesday, Community Development Director Brad Johnson said if the Jamboree came back with a revised plan for a four-story building, the city would still like the architectural commission to weigh in on the project, and most applicants would agree with that. request.
“They might get stubborn and say it has to be done at the staff level, but most [developers] want to work with the city to follow our process,” Johnson said.
That said, a blueprint-compliant project like this is limited to five hearings under state law, and Larkin Place has been reviewed three times.
“We are still hopeful that the project can move from the target population of chronically homeless to seniors, families or transitioning youth experiencing homelessness. Jamboree said about 60-70% of chronically homeless people eligible for placement are single men. We struggle to understand how this population is a “good fit” in this location next to a children’s playground. We also hope that if Jamboree doesn’t get their funding, Pilgrim Place would be willing to do a smaller program that allows for local control like CHAP or Crossroads,” Mawby said.