Rusnak Auto Group Proposes New Dealership Facilities in East Pasadena, Draws Ire of Preservationists

Published : Monday, November 18, 2019 | 6:19 AM

The Rusnak Auto Group, which operates a cluster of luxury automobile dealerships along Colorado Boulevard in West Pasadena, hopes to add a 100,080-square-foot, two-story vehicle sales and service development in East Pasadena, Pasadena’s City Council will hear Monday night. But preservationists aren’t happy.

Currently, the site contains multiple single-story industrial and commercial buildings and a large surface parking lot that the Rusnak Group plans to demolish to give way to the proposed project.

Planning Director David Reyes is expected to brief the Council tonight about the proposed development, which is in the Predevelopment Plan Review phase of the City’s approval process.

Pasadena Heritage, a local nonprofit that advocates for historic preservation throughout the City, has expressed some concerns about the project.

“Just south of the new Home Depot Site, Rusnak and Porsche are proposing a new car dealership, located at 2915 E. Foothill Blvd. We are concerned about the historic building at 96 N. Sunnyslope Ave., at the corner of Walnut St.,” a statement from Pasadena Heritage said. “Although this modest brick factory building may look unassuming, it was a long time location of the Swanson and Peterson furniture company, two Scandinavian-born woodworkers that were critical to the Craftsman Era, and transitioned into furniture production in the Modern Era”

Pasadena Heritage has looked at the building’s construction.

“We believe that most or all of the street facing facades of this historic factory can be preserved, with very minor changes to the proposed car dealership,” the group concluded.

But as proposed, the historic building would be demolished and replaced by a fairly blank masonry wall.

Pasadena Heritage is calling for public support of a “preservation-sensitive redesign of the project.”

A preliminary report by the Planning Department showed the building at 96 N. Sunnyslope Avenue is within the 5.05-acre project site, although the report shows its address as 2914 East Walnut Street.

“The building at 2914 East Walnut Street is documented as being eligible for special consideration in the location planning process in the East Pasadena Specific Plan Historic Architectural Resources Inventory survey prepared in 1994,” the report reads. “The thresholds of eligibility for historic resources have changed since the preparation of this report. As a result, the subject building needs to be re-evaluated to determine if it is an eligible historic resource. If the property is deemed an eligible historic resource, preparation of an Initial Environmental Study (IES) will be required to determine if the demolition of the resource is a significant environmental impact.”

In the event the environmental study shows demolition of the building would have a significant environmental impact, the City may require an Environmental Impact Report as part of the application process, the Planning Department said. The project applicants will also need to meet with Planning Department staff to discuss alternative measures, including possible relocation, or incorporation into the proposed project, the report said.

The report seems mindful of the revenue benefits to the City that may arise if the project comes to fruition.

“In the last 10-15 years, Pasadena has experienced the closure or relocation of many vehicle sales businesses from the City, including Ford, Chevrolet, Acura, Mercedes, Saab, Chrysler, and Jeep,” the report reads. “Sales of new and used cars, as well as parts and service, are a large source of tax revenue for cities and counties, therefore the loss of auto dealerships has a large impact on a local jurisdiction’s general fund.”

With challenges to the traditional automotive-retail model coming from growing online auto sales companies, ride-sharing services, and changing consumer demands, the Planning Department said fewer new auto dealerships are opening and existing ones are under pressure to consolidate retail locations in order to maintain current levels of profitability.

“Attracting and retaining auto dealerships has therefore become highly competitive for cities,” the report continued. “Pasadena’s retail sales are a major source of revenue for the City’s general fund and the establishment of a new auto dealership would provide additional funds for the City to maintain and improve services to residents.”

The City Council will formally receive the report Monday at its regular meeting. Further discussions, including public hearings, are expected to be scheduled by the Council and various City commissions, in the weeks ahead.

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