Guest Opinion | Erika Foy: One of Pasadena’s Most Historic Districts is Under Threat

Published : Monday, June 10, 2019 | 5:30 AM

Pasadena residents need to know that one of our oldest, most historic districts is under threat. The new development being permitted at 127-141 N. Madison Avenue is a behemoth multi-story structure that has been exempted from any meaningful oversight. In this instance, it is unfortunate that our city has chosen to disregard historic adjacencies.

The facts are that on June 5th, our Board of Zoning Appeals permitted a massive development abutting National Register designated Ford Place Historic District and the individually listed Blinn House. These iconic buildings are part of a cherished group of homes which represent excellence in early Pasadena architecture. With this permit, the city declined to conduct an essential environmental review which is known as CEQA. CEQA is an important state law which allows communities the opportunity to provide input on how developments will impact residents’ health, future, and neighborhoods.

How on earth can the city allow the building of a massive, five-story development next to these historic resources and permit the removal of four protected trees on North Madison? The building is inconsistent with what the General Plan Guiding Principle #2 articulates, “Pasadena’s historic resources will be preserved. Citywide, new development will be in harmony with and enhance Pasadena’s unique character and sense of place. New construction that could affect the integrity of historic resources will be compatible with, and differentiated from, the existing resource.” This new development is not in harmony with Pasadena’s character, nor compatible with existing resources.

Why are we not asking more of the developer and the project architect to abide by Pasadena’s historic and aesthetic values? I fear this project is being pushed through because the developer is using the state density bonus allowance by including four affordable units in their plan. Under the City’s inclusionary housing policies, the developer is required to build three affordable units as part of his building (or pay a substantial in-lieu fee to the City). By building just one additional unit, he is allowed to add an additional 9 market rate units and expand his building envelope significantly over the current zoning code in height and bulk. This massive new structure will now abut a treasured historic district of single-family homes. However, it hardly seems worth the cost to us as a City for one additional affordable unit. Granted, state density bonus allowances are challenging, but it is important that we work within the granted parameters to mitigate negative impacts.

In no way do I want to stop growth in our city or ignore the need for affordable housing. Our city’s success is based on us getting this formula correct and we must work within the framework of our General Plan. Until our city process is working to guide developers and requires them to consider the context of any given neighborhood, have respect for historic resources, and complete final design review prior to entitlements, I am afraid this will continue.

Residents, developers, city staff, and city council must work together to find a solution to this issue that works for all parties, not just developers and special interests. How we answer this problem comes down to how much we value the unique beauty of our city and whether our city leaders can define a solid process for reasonable planning. If we as a city do not designate clear-cut parameters for the use of density bonus concessions, we will end up with unbearable traffic, no parks, un-walkable streets, and neighborhoods in conflict with Pasadena’s sense of place. All of these factors will reduce the essence of Pasadena we are trying desperately to protect.

We must ensure that the city we pass down to our children isn’t made of just parking lots and concrete developments. If a project adjacent to one of the most historic locations in our city is deemed CEQA exempt by city staff, imagine how difficult it will be to ensure appropriate development in the future at other locations. Developers will know we are a city that will fast track projects without care about their effect on our neighborhoods, historic resources, or environment. I don’t think this is a legacy our commission, council, or mayor wants to leave behind.

We are the City of Roses. Let’s start figuring out a way to make sure the thorns of our roses keep us protected from developments like this.


Erika Foy is a civic-minded Pasadena resident who is Vice President, Membership of the Madison Heights Neighborhood Association

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