Council Approves Madison Avenue Project after 'Drastic' Changes

Developer ‘works with community’ to adapt 72,000 square-foot, mixed-use project

Published : Tuesday, September 17, 2019 | 4:47 AM

Following nearly four hours of detailed testimony, the Pasadena City Council Monday unanimously approved a Planning Department recommendation for the approval of a “drastically changed” project at 127 and 141 Madison Avenue.

The hearing for the project was continued from last week after the developer, Mike Balian, proposed additional changes to his project to help secure its approval by the Council.

According to a Planning Department report presented by Associate Planner Jason Van Patten, the proposed mixed-use project has undergone significant modifications in response to issues raised on its appeal.

“The project inherently qualifies for approval,” said Planning Director David Reyes, who added, “It’s a better project now, because the developer wanted to work with the community.”

Essentially, the changes in the project, along with nearly 100 previously approved Planning Department requirements, centered around the issues of height and floor-area-ratio.

In the newest (and now-approved) plan, the overall height and massing have been reduced, a greater setback is provided to the historic Blinn House property to the west, at grade parking has been eliminated, and the ground floor commercial office component has been reduced, according to the Planning Department report.

Balian requested two affordable housing concessions to facilitate the construction of the 72,000 square-foot, five-story mixed-use project with 49 residential units, four of which would be dedicated to “very-low income” ·households, along with 2,500 square feet of commercial office, and 87 parking spaces on two partially subterranean levels.

The requested concessions include exceeding the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) to 2.25 FAR where the Zoning Code limits the maximum to 1.5; a concession to exceed the maximum height limit, with a proposed height of 60 feet.

Concessions also include the removal of four protected trees on private property, to be replaced with a canopy of trees “that is sustainable over the long term,” said the staff report. A newly added sentence to the approval also accounted for the protection of nearby and adjacent trees alongside the property.

A host of previously-opposed residents spoke in favor of the project with the new changes, including Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage, who said that the changes were “acceptable,” though they still disagreed with some aspects of the project.

“We’ve come to terms with this,” said Mossman. “We’re in a much better place now.”

A spokesperson for the adjacent Blinn House, home to the Women’s City Club, also said, “We’re happy with the changes.”

Activist Nina Chomsky, while not opposing the project, said she was concerned about what she called “fake CEQA reports,” or environmental reports that were paid for by developers. Chomsky also said, however, that “The project is much better now, thanks to the community.”

Attorney Richard McDonald, who represents the project, responded to Chomsky that the City pays for CEQA reports and that developers are not allowed in any way to participate in the process.

Housing activist Jill Shock took issue with the low number of affordable units in the project, and asked that the number of units be increased from four to nine. Developer Balian, asked point-blank by Councilmember Tyron Hampton whether he would add more affordable units to the project, said he would not.

Councilmember John Kennedy, in asking for the motion to approve, also wondered aloud why the approved changes could not have been made earlier in the planning process.

The approval comes as a flurry of new State housing laws will soon begin to affect the City’s right to control its zoning over the next ten years.

“This could all change in two weeks,” said Mayor Terry Tornek.

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