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Church Opposes Plan to Use Santa Ana Hotel to House Seniors

Times Staff Writer

A plan to rehabilitate the 63-year-old Santa Ana Hotel for senior citizen housing is about to crumble because of opposition from the First Presbyterian Church next door, developers said Tuesday.

Although the developer, builder and a social agency have formed a partnership and obtained a $1-million loan from the state, the deal probably will fall apart if the city does not chip in another $900,000 in low-interest financing, developer and architect Don Krotee said Thursday.

For now, city officials remain unwilling to commit money for the project because of “dissatisfaction that surrounding businesses share with the church regarding the project,” City Manager David Ream said.

City refusal of the loan “would probably spark the death of the project,” Krotee said. “For all intents and purposes, this is the last breath.”

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The state Department of Housing and Community Development will meet Oct. 10 and may use the state money elsewhere if the project is not fully funded, Krotee said.

Krotee will make a last-ditch appeal for the money at a City Council meeting Monday, he said. LaDale Dunbar, spokeswoman for Feedback Foundation, the social agency that would operate the refurbished hotel, and builder Al Shankle will also go before the council.

The major obstacle is adamant opposition from church officials who say they remember that the hotel was little more than “a flophouse” before the city closed it in January, 1984, because it didn’t meet seismic safety codes. They say they fear that it again would house transients.

But Krotee said strict screening of applicants by Feedback would eliminate the type of people that the church is “paranoid” about.

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“That is just one fear,” said the Rev. Mike Pulsifer. “Another major concern is that the building has no parking, not one single space. The congestion that 75 people would cause there would be tremendous.”

Pulsifer said there is a need for senior citizen housing and called the project “a really nice idea” but discounted arguments that little parking would be required. “It’s just not true that senior citizens don’t drive,” he said.

Dunbar said city plans call for construction of a 500-space garage about a block from the church that could eliminate much of the parking shortage. She said a proposal was also made that any resident with a car show proof of off-site parking before moving in. “We feel that we’ve gone overboard to try and settle the parking issue,” she said.

Church spokesman Bob Politiski said the church is interested in acquiring the property and has sought information on the cost of demolishing the building, although no decision on expansion has been made. He declined to discuss the matter further, saying that church members want to prepare a response over the weekend for Monday’s meeting.

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Cindy Nelson, executive director of community development, told Shankle that she will not recommend the loan application to the City Council. “Our position on the matter remains the same--that staff will not support the project until such time as you provide evidence that the adjacent property owners consent to the type of development proposed for the property,” she wrote.

Krotee said he began working on the project not only as an investment but also as a way to save what he considers a unique building. It is listed on the city’s historical register, and Krotee said its “federalist” architectural style is rare for the area.

The project would involve about $3 million worth of work, including making the structure earthquake-safe, installing new electrical and mechanical systems, plumbing and bathroom fixtures and extensive exterior rehabilitation. The refurbished building would have 72 rooms and 16,000 square feet of retail and office space.

According to Dunbar, the rooms would rent from $165 to $250 per month and tenants would have to meet low-income requirements. She said a resident manager would screen out transients and month-to-month rentals.

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“We have no interest in being a slum landlord,” she said.


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