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City Council Passes Extension on YWCA Building

Published on Monday, August 2, 2021 | 7:17 pm
The Julia Morgan-designed YWCA building on North Marengo Avenue at the height of its former glory, in the 1930’s.

The Pasadena City Council on Monday granted a time extension for a conditional use permit (CUP) for rehabilitation of the famed Julia Morgan YWCA building.

Developers plan to turn the nearly 100-year-old structure, designed by Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect, into a two-to-six-story, 91,000 square-foot building for use as a hotel at 78 N. Marengo Ave., 155 E, Union St., and 95 N. Garfield Ave.

The CUP dates back to Aug. 16, 2016, when the City Council approved a series of zoning entitlements for a hotel building, which included rehabilitation of the original building.

Approvals required by the city zoning code on properties in districts outside single-family residential zones are valid for an initial period of three years unless an extension is granted.

“Pasadena Heritage supports the one-year time extension for YWCA redevelopment CUP,” wrote Andrew Salimian, preservation director. “As we understand it, the proposed HRI project generally conforms to the earlier Kimpton proposal, and having an active CUP will help move the project forward. It is imperative that the City Council moves quickly on the redevelopment because the YWCA faces risk of damage as it sits vacant. We hope that the City and HRI can move quickly towards the realization of a project that will stabilize and restore Julia Morgan’s irreplaceable YWCA building.”

On Sept. 22, developers conducted a virtual presentation of their proposed developments for the site. On Nov. 23, the council directed staff to enter into exclusive negotiations with HAI Properties, LLC, for a new development on the site, which would include substantial renovation of the YWCA building and construction of a separate, adjacent building for use as a 179-room hotel (14 rooms in the YWCA building and 165 in the proposed new building).

Several callers called on the project to come back before the public as an affordable housing project.

The issue of this project has long been before the city and the city council,” said Mayor Victor Gordo.

City manager Steve Mermell said it would cost 13 to 16 million dollars to restore the building, which makes an affordable housing project unaffordable.

“The economics just did not work there,” Mermell said.

The city acquired the building through eminent domain 10 years ago and acquired an injunction against the former owner of the famous but neglected structure.
An appeal has been filed according to City Manager Steve Mermell.

According to that lawsuit, the city is asking for “issuance of a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction restraining and enjoining defendants from interfering with city’s attempts to pursue an ENA [exclusive negotiating agreement], lease and development agreement with potential developers in regard to the YWCA Building.”

Angela Chen-Sabella, who owns Trove Investment Co., contends the city must sell the building back to her on claims that the city has not put the structure into use since it acquired the building.

“As a result of the wrongful conduct of the defendants, and each of them and because real property is unique, an injunction is therefore necessary to allow the city to continue its efforts to pursue an ENA, lease and development agreement with potential developers in regards to the YWCA building,” the lawsuit states.

According to section 1245.245 of the code of civil procedure, seized property is to be offered back to the original owner if it is not put to its public use – or the taking is not reauthorized – within 10 years.

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