The biggest controversy that has happened in Sierra Madre in a long time is continuing. The Mater Dolorosa fathers are attempting to sell 20 acres of their property to developer New Urban West to build 42 large cookie cutter style homes on 17 of those acres, using their own rules, rather than the City’s. Here are the indisputable concerns:
1. Following their own rules – New Urban West’s Specific Plan states that their zoning will take precedence over any zoning of the City of Sierra Madre. Included in that is their right to sell off more acreage. Hard to believe that they would stop at only 42 extra large homes. There is a strong possibility that once the homes are built, and precedence is set, there goes the sale of the next 20 acres for more McMansions.
2. Very severe high fire zone – According to our Fire Chief Barnett, there will be “no problem” building in a designated very severe high fire zone with new fire-retardant materials. The fallacy of that premise screamed across our TV and computer screens, and on the front pages of local newspapers as twenty “large luxury homes” burned in Laguna Beach last week. These homes, relatively new, all with tile roofs, built with fire-retardant materials, spaced further apart than the New Urban West homes would be, in a defensible space next to the ocean, could not be saved. One of the homes destroyed was equipped with indoor sprinklers, which couldn’t save it as it burned to the ground.
The similarities to NUW’s “Meadows” project are striking. In addition to those just mentioned – both are next to what is thought to be touted as relatively safe from fire –Laguna Beach next to the ocean, the Meadows, with the Retreat Center building between it and the hillside. Both are in the path of howling winds that can send embers flying into nearby neighborhoods.
Should the Meadows actually come to fruition, in any form; will the developer inform new home owners that their home insurance will be much higher than homes south of Grand View – if they are able to get any insurance at all?
This is not addressed in their Specific Plan, and not a question either the Planning Commissioners, the City Council Members, or the public have asked.
3. Drought – As we are all aware, California is in a 1200 year drought. According to last Sunday’s Pasadena Star News; that, despite recent rainstorms, 60% of California is experiencing extreme drought and 95% severe drought. Residents are asked to reduce our water usage by another 35%. Given the current housing shortage, building 42 multi-million dollar houses that do not address the critical need for low income housing, will not help preserve this valuable resource.
This, ironically, comes after our Sierra Madre ‘belt tightening’ during the declared drought of 2014. New Urban West keeps promoting a fantasy called “net zero water.” According to their representative, Jonathan Frankel, the new home owners will pay up front for 50 years of water. That is a problem, because according to our City Manager, Jose Reynoso, there is no water to be had. The situation continues to be more dire, as the expected snow pack didn’t happen. Just constructing one house will take 100,000 gallons of water according to a local developer.
Public communication with our representatives – The Planning Commission Chair closed public comment at 11:30, the end of their April 7 meeting. Apparently, Chair Pevsner received enough emails, that he reconsidered, polled the other four Commissioners and reopened it at the May 5 meeting. It was closed again at the end of the meeting. This is an awkward position for everyone and we encourage the Commission to be proactive in seeking a workable solution. While two Commissioners agreed that the public offers valuable information, and that public comments should be permitted that address the specifics discussed at a meeting, we remain hopeful that comments will be allowed going forward.
We will continue to promote open dialogue with our City representatives and we encourage anyone who is interested in what is happening with this project to attend the next Planning Commission meeting at 7 pm on June 2.