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City Council is Interested in Exploring Housing on Church Property

Published on Tuesday, October 6, 2020 | 4:45 am

The possibility of Pasadena making inroads into meeting its affordable-housing needs by using land offered up by local religious institutions got a warm reception Monday from the City Council.

“To meet our (affordable)-housing goals, I think we need to take the blinders off and at least explore what this could look like,’’ said Councilmember Andy Wilson, a key booster of the city exploring some kinds of joint efforts with religious institutions to address the city’s affordable-housing shortage.

“Neighbors and communities would not be happy with the outcome but I have confidence in our planning staff to come up with a set of solutions that can work for neighborhoods and also allow us to address the affordable-housing needs in our city.’’

Land costs are “obviously a huge barrier,’’ Wilson added.

“(But) I think we should take up the offer of our faith-based organizations and see what possibilities may emerge. I don’t have a predisposed outcome of what that is, but I do think this is a scenario that, with some creativity, there may be some opportunities there, and I think it’s a rock that we should turn over.’’

No action was taken by the council, as the discussion was just an informational item on a crowded Monday agenda. City staff had asked the council for direction on how it might proceed on the matter.

“The fundamental premise here (is) churches have surplus land because of declining attendance and probably many of them (have excess parking spaces),’’ said Mayor Terry Tornek.

“The fact that they would be willing to invest that land in providing affordable-housing sites is too attractive to pass up. I’m strongly supportive, and delighted that Councilmember Wilson raised the issue in terms of making sure that this doesn’t get slow-walked and that it really gets the kind of attention that it deserves, because there are very few opportunities like this.’’

Tornek said the issue is a complicated one that needs lots of examination as to how the city would balance addressing its affordable-housings needs while making all manner of zoning adjustments, and at the same time guarding the basic character of neighborhoods.

“We have to establish at least minimum standards so that we’re clear that it’s not going to have a huge adverse impact on neighbors,’’ Tornek said. “Predictability and certainty on the part of the institution and their partners is absolutely vital. You can’t expect them to go through the process and not know what they’re going to come out with in the end.

“With the help of the Planning Commission, (the city can) help develop some predictability in this process.

“I think it’s important,” Tornek added, “that we send a strong signal from the council that we are not necessarily buying any particular proposals, but that we are strongly supportive of really the offer that some of our churches have made to participate in this tremendous need and help solve the problem, and do it in a tangible and hopefully swift way.’’

Councilmember Victor Gordo agreed, pointing out the Planning Commission has already studied the issue to some extent, and needs to deep-dive even more

“I think our Planning Commission got it right,’’ Gordo said. “Be thoughtful about it, but with a sense of urgency.’’

Councilmember Margaret McAustin acknowledged, “I don’t know all the answers,” but stressed, “I think we should move forward” on the possibility.

“I am concerned about too much market-rate housing being allowed and that it becomes a development opportunity for somebody else,’’ she said. “(But) I think we should get into the weeds a little bit on it and see what we can figure out, what it means.

“We should be leaders on this if we can sort it out, because we do have a unique situation in Pasadena in terms of churches and some of their land areas.’’

Added Tornek: “No one’s saying this should be rushed through, it’s far too complicated. But I think we need to proceed apace and make sure that staff knows that this is something we’re interested in.’’

In the end, the council directed the Planning Commission to dive more deeply into the issue “with a sense of urgency,” in the words of Wilson.

Pasadena Now did a thorough examination of the issue Monday that is available here.

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