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Commissioners request more time to ponder $7M YMCA expansion, neighbor concerns

Commissioners request more time to ponder $7M YMCA expansion, neighbor concerns
Residents and representatives from YMCA of the Foothills line up to speak in a public hearing Tuesday before the La Cañada Planning Commission about a proposed $7-million expansion plan for the Crescenta Cañada Family YMCA on Foothill Boulevard. (Photo by Sara Cardine)

A proposed $7-million expansion of the Crescenta Cañada Family YMCA was put on hold Tuesday, after the city Planning Commission requested time to consider neighbor concerns regarding noise and traffic and ensure Y officials collaborated more with residents moving forward.

A public hearing drew a large crowd to City Hall, where supporters of YMCA of the Foothills and residents living near the 4.69-acre facility spent hours sharing their views on the impacts and benefits of the proposal.

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The two-phase building plan begins with construction of a $3.5-million, two-level parking deck on the campus’ north end along Foothill Boulevard, which would add about 70 onsite spaces and take from six to eight months to complete. Officials report a total of about $3.7 million has been raised so far.

To accommodate traffic flow in and around the parking structure — and a larger plan by the city to create a bikeway and pedestrian greenbelt along Foothill by the facility — the Y’s current eastern entrance would be shifted to form a four-way intersection at Palm Drive. The city has funded the signalized intersection and plans to install it in time for the structure’s completion.

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Phase two includes demolishing 6,755 square feet of existing structure for a central courtyard area and the addition of a three-story building on the campus’s east side. That phase of construction could take from 10 months to a year but will not be built for several more years as the nonprofit continues to raise funds.

On Tuesday, commissioners considered a conditional use permit for the property, a permit to remove 48 trees to accommodate the 24,500-square-foot parking structure as well as height and setback variances. Officials also sought a lot line adjustment near the site’s western driveway.

Tyler Wright, chief executive of YMCA of the Foothills, said the changes will not expand membership, but will provide better access to the facility for seniors and help meet the needs of a changing demographic.

“We believe what we’re presenting to you is the best proposed project for what we hope we can do in the future,” Wright told commissioners, introducing an architect, traffic engineer and YMCA board member who would explain the plan in detail.

But a group of neighbors who live near the campus — many of whom compete with Y traffic around nearby private driveways to get in and out of their homes — claim they weren’t given enough time to review the project.

“To me, it feels like a lot of information has been held back from the neighbors,” said Marissa Solis, who lives on Rancho Cañada Road adjacent the facility. “Five hundred thousand people visit the YMCA a year — that’s a lot of people to deal with, and [Y officials] haven’t come to the table with us.”

Many speakers said the project would increase traffic, noise and light pollution and potentially threaten their safety by increasing traffic and choking off emergency vehicle access to residential properties. The plan is estimated to add 30 new vehicle trips to the weekday morning peak hour and 363 net new daily trips on a typical weekday.

“It is genuinely a nightmare,” said Anita Brenner, who recounted routine traffic woes and a September 2016 fire near her home on a private road fire department crews could not get to because of vehicle traffic at the YMCA.

“Looking across the street from the Y, we thought, ‘That’s it — our house is done,’” she recalled. “What if someone had a heart attack?”

After hearing from 23 speakers and several consultants, commissioners said they could make most of the findings for approval but wanted more time to ponder what they’d heard.

“I’m not convinced I’d come to a different conclusion, but I feel like I need to be open to the opportunity that maybe I haven’t thought everything through,” said Commission Chair Rick Gunter.

Commissioner Jeff McConnell encouraged YMCA officials to use the extension to work with neighbors on creating construction and traffic management plans.

“We want to make sure this practice, currently, where people feel they have not been communicated with is not just avoided but doesn’t ever happen again,” he said. “In fact, you should be blamed for bothering them — that’s the way I think you need to approach this.”

Commissioners approved the lot line adjustment in a 3-1 vote (Commissioner Arun Jain was absent) and agreed 4-0 to continue the remainder of the discussion to an uncertain date.

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