Residents Speak Up Against Citywide 75’ Building Heights, Ask for 30’ Max.
By Ari Gutierrez Arambula
The City of Alhambra continues to pursue the adoption of its updated Zoning Code, which is still winding its way through the Planning Commission. The zoning code public hearing was continued to the next meeting, October 16, 2023, after the City Council approved the Housing Element to inform the new Zoning Code and expressed interest in reconciling the city’s plan for 75’ height with the communities’ call for lower heights next residential and historic buildings.
To clarify – cities are required to update their General Plan every 10 years, which serves as the “vision” for city housing and commercial development. A component of the General Plan is the Housing Element, which provides the policy guidelines for housing and commercial development. The Housing Element works “hand in glove” with the Zoning Code, which provides the implementation rules for building and business permits.
Why the big brouhaha? This go-’round the State of California has upped the ante on cities to sharply increase housing – for Alhambra, the housing goal is almost 7,000 new units over the next 8 years with equitable distribution benchmarks among very low, low, middle, and higher income affordability. Alhambra has long fallen short on housing goals especially for low and lower-income families, so it’s got some catching up to do.
In response, the City – with the help of an out-of-town consultant – has determined that it will create the opportunity for the development of 24,000 housing units (emphasis added) to comply with the state’s housing mandates. To do this, it has proposed in the Housing Element, and edited the previously approved General Plan, to increase maximum building heights from 55’ to 75’ citywide in designated zones. Additionally, setbacks between buildings are adjusted from 5’ for each additional floor in height to only 1’ per floor.
Residents are pushing back on this approach because it is 1) not necessary to meet state mandates and 2) would change the character of the city from a “city of homes” to a “city of high-rise market-rate condos”. To add insult to injury, based on the current draft, the developers would be allowed to proceed without a public hearing or even a Planning Commission review, if it proposes to build with certain criteria.
Moreover, the state has -since the initial housing stock analysis- implemented legislation that allows mixed use (commercial plus housing) along all commercial thoroughfares and provides incentives to build with lower parking requirements if the development is in a high public-transit area or meets the states’ inclusionary housing minimums.
Residents challenge that there are plenty of other alternatives to adding housing without compromising city character, pedestrian safety, green space, and blocking the sun and views of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Access to meeting agendas is available at city of alhambra.org. Public comments may be submitted by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 4:00 pm the date of the meeting.
[This article has been updated to omit a meeting date and to report on more developments. Oct. 10, 6:45 pm]
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