Plans for a 72-bed senior living facility on Foothill Boulevard at Woodleigh Lane were put on hold Tuesday, after city planning commissioners requested more time to analyze the project and respond to numerous public concerns raised during a lengthy public hearing.
"We need to re-review this — it's a lot to digest," said Commissioner Mike Hazen, after input was collected from applicant Oakmont Senior Living and more than 20 public speakers over a three-hour period.
About 100 residents packed the meeting room in City Hall past 11 p.m., spilling out into an overflow seating area to learn more about a proposal calling for construction of a 78,117-square-foot, three-story facility with semi-subterranean parking and a 2,231-square-foot church that would rehouse the current landowners of 600 Foothill Blvd., First Church of Christ, Scientist.
The 1.29-acre parcel is zoned institutional under the city's Downtown Village Specific Plan, which sets long-range design and planning guidelines for the city's town center, including schools, churches and facilities like the community center and water districts.
It is owned by the church, which plans to sell the property to Oakmont for an unspecified amount and enter a 99-year lease agreement for use of the new church building.
Commissioners were asked to consider a variance for an overall building height that exceeds the city's allowance by 15 feet, a tree removal permit for several trees and a conditional use permit for operation of the facility.
Several of Tuesday's speakers shared concerns about the massiveness and density of a project being located hundreds of feet from a relatively quiet residential area, and how a creeping trend of city-approved variances for height and setback encroachments threatens to change La Cañada's semirural character.
Michael and Elza Gross, Woodleigh Lane homeowners who live about 280 feet from the project area, said much has changed since they moved into a house near Foothill Boulevard shielded by a wooded lot, 10-foot privacy wall and old-growth eucalyptus trees, all of which were torn down as the surrounding area was rezoned institutional.
They joined others in asking why concessions should be made for the gain of a for-profit commercial enterprise.
"Why do we have a [Downtown] Village Specific Plan when you're consistently and routinely giving variances, which then set a precedent for the next developer who comes in?" Elza Gross asked. "We pride ourselves in the semi-rural atmosphere of this town and I want to keep it — I want to keep it for myself, my children, my grandchildren and my neighbors."
Resident Lisa Brownfield, however, questioned whether the area really was residential in nature.
"Foothill Boulevard is not a residential street," she said. "As such, this building should not have to conform to residential standards."
Other speakers questioned the city's process for deeming the project's impacts on aesthetics, street parking and traffic near an already tricky intersection "less than significant" and their recommendation of such a dense project.
Steve Del Guercio, a former La Cañada mayor and planning commissioner, said the city's General Plan places limits on population density and building intensity (defined as the gross building area divided by the lot area) that Oakmont's project vastly exceeds.
"If you did that math you'd come up with a permitted floor area of 19,667 square feet," he said. "[This project] is some 60,000 square feet greater than what's permitted under the land use designation in the General Plan — that's four times more."
Ken Kidd, Oakmont's vice president of site acquisition and development, said he spent years researching the community and its needs before the company chose La Cañada Flintridge for the project. The city's aging population and lack of senior housing (only 12 beds exist inside city limits, he said) made it an ideal location.
In his rebuttal to neighbors' comments, Kidd reiterated Oakmont's good intentions and said the information was a lot to take in.
"We really want to be good neighbors — it's absolutely a nonstarter for us unless we can be," he said. "It's almost impossible for me to rebut all the comments that were made tonight. I just need to soak it up and, hopefully, we can carry on with this another time."
The matter was continued to an undetermined date to allow city staff and Oakmont officials to further analyze comments made at Tuesday's hearing.