Opponents of the extension say the move puts a thumb on the scale of the possible uses of the property, unfairly telegraphing a hotel is preferred
Published : Tuesday, June 4, 2019 | 4:48 AM
The Pasadena City Council Monday unanimously approved a one-year extension of zoning entitlements originally set aside for a hotel project for the former YWCA building in the Civic Center.
That earlier hotel project was ultimately rejected, and its zoning entitlements were about to expire.
Mayor Terry Tornek told the Council that the extension was important not necessarily for a new hotel project at the site but for any affordable housing development, too, which is the use he favors.
On August 16, 2016, the City Council approved a series of zoning entitlements for a new two-to-six-story hotel building, which would include rehabilitation of the 91,000 square-foot historic YWCA building at 78 North Marengo Avenue.
But following the May 2017collapse of a plan to build a new Kimpton luxury boutique project on the site, the city terminated negotiations with Kimpton. In April the Council directed City to prepare and release a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to find a new project and developer for the long unused site.
As the report noted, some submitted proposals may utilize some or all of the previously approved entitlements, with modifications that might be necessary to reflect the specifics of the new proposal.
“As such, it is in the City’s best interest to extend the entitlements’ time limit to accommodate the process of selecting a new development proposal for the site,” said the report.
City Manager Steve Mermell emphasized, however, Monday’s vote was strictly on the extension and not on any particular projects or uses the City might receive in response to the RFP.
Following the selection of a new proposal, staff will then assess the potential for entitlements to be utilized for the new proposal and will identify the appropriate review procedure for the new project to follow, the report added.
Before hearing from nearly 40 speakers, however, Mayor Terry Tornek, told the meeting, “My position on this has been clear. I think that [the former YWCA building] should be permanent supportive housing.”
Tornek noted that most of the speakers were in favor of the homeless housing proposal, but explained, “That is really not what is before us tonight.”
“This is just a decision on whether or not to extend the use permit,” said Tornek. “I support this because if we don’t extend the use permit, then if the Council, in its infinite wisdom, decides to support permanent supportive housing on the site, it’s going to take a lot longer.”
Tornek also explained that the use permit extension is not an endorsement of any hotel proposal “to the exclusion of a permanent supportive housing alternative.”
“That is not the case,” he stressed.
Tornek added, “We’re not trying to re-litigate the entitlement so much here, as, in my point of view, we are trying to find a way to expedite the decision that I ultimately hope we make.”
A number of speakers expressed confusion on the issue, however, and continued to argue for the elimination of the use permit as well as the RFPs.
Marsha Rood, who had led opposition to the now-defunct Kimpton hotel project, told the Council that extending the entitlements originally granted to that project, would be “clearly putting a thumb on the scale of the project, pointing it towards a hotel. It literally telegraphs that entitlements for a hotel are there.”
Rood added that unless the new project was a hotel, it was “difficult to imagine” how the granted entitlements would apply.
Rood also said that the presence of the RFP discourages non-profits and affordable housing providers from applying to develop a project. The RFP’s evaluation criteria favors private development, she said.
With the zoning entitlements left in place, the call for new ideas for uses of the YWCA building was scheduled to be issued today, June 4, according to the City’s website.