[UPDATED] Local residents told Pasadena Now they are anxious to hear details of development proposals for the Julia Morgan YWCA building and the site of a former Water and Power building.
“I’d like to see affordable housing, but some commercial with the baseline retail,” said Marsha Rood, local activist and Elder of the Pasadena Presbyterian Church whose ruling body – the Session – has voted officially to endorse permanent supportive housing/affordable housing for the Y. “I also would like to see that the civic gardens are not built upon. That’s been a huge issue for many years, with many of the people who’ve been involved with seeing that the Y is done properly. And one of our key issues is that we do not want it built upon because there they’re about a hundred years old now. And they’ve been with the city almost since its birth. And that would be a tragedy to the City Beautiful movement.
Developers will be in a virtual meeting about plans for the Civic Center at 3 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22.
“The only thing that I feel strongly about that is that part of this process needs to yield permanent affordable housing,” said Mayor Terry Tornek.
“My initial position was that I would like to see it at the Y. The developers have pretty universally said that it would be much more efficient to build affordable housing on the vacant site across the street and develop the historic building differently because it doesn’t lend itself for permanent supportive housing use. So I’m willing to accept that as long as it’s part of a package where we get both. That’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.”
Tornek said the best outcome is that the city will end up with a renovated historic building that local residents can be proud of, one that is also part of the civic center and demonstrates Pasadena’s commitment to dealing with the affordable housing and the city’s homeless crisis.
The city has been discussing plans for the YWCA building since it was purchased under eminent domain for just over $8 million in 2010 after the owner balked at an offer of nearly $6.5 million. By then, the nearly 100-year-old building had fallen into serious disrepair. After the city purchased the building, it continued to sit vacant and unused and deteriorated even more.
The two sites sit in the city’s Civic Center District.
The district was developed using the Bennett Plan, which is named after Edward H. Bennett. Under the plan, the city’s most important civic institutions were centralized within a single district where streets terminate at the most important buildings — City Hall, the Pasadena Central Library, and previously the Civic Auditorium, located to the south on Green Street.
The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
In 2017, preservationists opposed the idea of a 127,192 square foot, 60-feet high, 181-room hotel project at the YWCA site. The project was eventually scrapped when the developer asked for a $30 million subsidy to help cover increasing costs on the project. If it had been approved, the subsidy would have provided the developer with decades of free rent and parking.
Local preservationists filed a lawsuit challenging the approval of a report clearing the way for the project and claimed the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by certifying an environmental impact report (EIR) on the project.
According to lawyers for the Civic Center Coalition, the EIR did not consider traffic impacts, the loss of green space, or the encroachments on memorials dedicated to historical figures Jackie Robinson and his brother Mack.
After that project died, locals began calling on the City Council to use the project for affordable housing.
The lack of affordable housing in the city has devastated local schools. The district has lost more than 1,000 students over the past five years and has been forced to close a number of schools due to a decline in funding. The district makes about $10,000 per student in average daily attendance funds from the state.
“We support any kind of affordable housing, especially at the lower income levels,” said housing advocate Jill Shook. “We know that there’s a need for the moderate, but we do try to support the low-income levels. So we hope that that’s finally happening. And we could weigh in. The Julia Morgan site, you know, it’s a very expensive site to develop. There’s had to be some real adjustments on the proposals for that one, but I don’t know that we need another hotel in the city. Right now, with COVID, it’s not like it’s something that a lot of people need.”
The affordable housing developers and their proposals include:
• Abode Communities, which is proposing 103 dwelling units for families in a five-level building, which may include subterranean parking.
• National Community Renaissance of California, is proposing either a 94-unit family project or a 112-unit senior housing project in a five-level building, with 94 on-site parking spaces for the family project and 50 on-site parking spaces for the senior project.
• BRIDGE Housing, which is proposing to construct a 72-unit affordable housing project for seniors with approximately 39 spaces on-site in a four-level building on the Ramona Street lot.
The two remaining developers who are seeking to renovate the YWCA building and make improvements to the block are:
• HRI Properties, LLC of New Orleans, whose plans are to restore the former YWCA building into a 179-room historic hotel.
• Edgewood Realty Partners, LLC of South Pasadena,whose plans are to restore the YWCA building into a 164-room hotel operated by Palisociety.
During the Sept. 22 virtual meeting, each developer will have about 15 minutes to present their proposals, and the public will have an opportunity to submit questions for the developers to answer.