Council Puts Off Decision on New Building Height Interim Ordinance

Councilmember Gordo wants to avoid “unintended consequences’ of law, while Mayor Tornek predicts eventual passage

Published : Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | 5:16 AM

The Pasadena City Council Monday put off a formal vote on an interim ordinance to limit maximum heights of new residential buildings, deciding that the ordinance required more study and research by the City’s Planning Department staff.

The proposed ordinance is viewed by many as a reaction against new State regulations that would increase housing development, by, in some cases, usurping local zoning laws.

Under the proposed new ordinance, new buildings City-wide would not be allowed to be more than ten feet taller than the average height of existing buildings along the same block-face on which the new building is to be located, or the maximum height set forth in the Zoning Code, according to a Planning Department staff report.

According to the report, “this option would allow the same density currently allowed in the Zoning Code, thereby continuing to allow development of new housing units and avoiding potential conflict with the adopted Housing Element or State legislation.”

The proposed ordinance was opposed by an unlikely combination of both developers and affordable housing advocates, as well as local business leaders.

Pasadena housing advocate Anthony Manosous said he felt that the Council was more concerned with “aesthetics” than providing new and affordable housing, telling the Council, “I think we need more time to really study this, so we can be sure that we are actually …doing something that would violate the ethics of our city.”

Attorney and former City Council candidate Phil Hosp agreed somewhat, but pointed out, “It’s actually beneficial for a diverse and an inclusive neighborhood to make sure these buildings are preserved, and luxury condos with six units, or whatever, are not replacing them,” he said. “It does not make any sense to lose more units than you gain.”

Vice Mayor John Kennedy also expressed concern about the ordinance limiting the overall availability of housing in the city, specifically in his own district. He also worried about the City’s legal liability by passing the ordinance.

Responding to a number of speakers comments, Councilmember Victor Gordo said, “The state has basically blown the top off the [City’s] general plan, and that’s what we are trying to guard against here. I’m not persuaded by people who say that we changed the rules, we are reacting to the rules that are being imposed on up by the state.”

Gordo also noted that he was not persuaded that the Council was “altering basic rights of property owners” with the ordinance, saying that the City was within its rights to alter general plans. Gordo also said he did not believe that the ordinance affected affordable housing stock, acknowledging that most buildings to be affected were “high-end luxury buildings.”

A major concern prompting the interim ordinance, according to the staff report, was that some local projects “did not provide sufficient affordable housing to warrant the benefits of the concessions they received, and that the City should require additional public benefits in exchange for higher densities and additional height. The overall sentiment was that recent higher density developments are not consistent with the character of the City.”

“The feeling is that some of these developments are really getting too big out of scale with the neighborhood and in excess of frankly what we ever anticipated,” Mayor Terry Tornek said Friday. He said Monday evening that he thought the ordinance would eventually pass, however, following staff study.

Said Tornek, “We need to have all eight members of the Council available when we take this up, and we need to do a little more homework in terms of some of the issues that have been raised tonight.”