Residential Rezoning Dropped in Favor of Commercial Strategy : Monterey Park Maps Large-Scale Revival

Times Staff Writer

After an 8 1/2-hour meeting, the City Council last week scrapped plans to slow growth by rezoning residential property, but decided to ask voters to approve rezoning of commercial areas as part of a strategy to attract large-scale development to targeted sections of the city.

The council concluded a meeting that ran from 7 p.m. Wednesday to 3:30 a.m. Thursday by amending the city's general plan and introducing ordinances that raise standards for commercial and multifamily residential projects, establish building height limits, change minimum lot sizes for commercial development and rezone several commercial areas. The rezonings and some of the other changes will require voter approval at an election tentatively planned for July.

The city's planning consultants had recommend the rezoning of more than 100 residential lots to reduce the number of housing units on each, but the council abandoned that plan after many property owners said they would suffer financially.

Most of the commercial areas to be rezoned are on Atlantic Boulevard, Garfield and Garvey avenues and Potrero Grande Drive. In addition, a 9.7-acre section of the campus of East Los Angeles College would be rezoned for a shopping center in case the city and the college can agree on a development plan. City Manager Lloyd de Llamas said the city and college have discussed working together on a development project but have not reached an agreement.

In addition to the new development standards, consultants have recommended that the city undertake extensive public improvements and an aggressive redevelopment program to stimulate private investment.

The improvements would include construction of fountains at city entrances to give the city a distinctive theme and street projects to improve traffic flow.

De Llamas said a program of major public improvements will be submitted to the council in three or four weeks.

The council acted last week after four public hearings and months of work by consultants hired for $252,000 to redesign the city in response to complaints of traffic gridlock, ugly mini-malls and poorly planned condominiums.

Councilman Barry L. Hatch said at the council meeting that developers have overbuilt, putting the city "in one hell of a mess."

Hatch said poor city planning put a hotel next to homes, allowed builders to tear down houses for construction of apartments and condominiums and brought the city a batch of mini-malls, but no large stores.

Councilman Chris Houseman said, "It's pretty clear the city is in a very shaky economic situation." Neighboring cities have outstripped Monterey Park in commercial growth and sales tax revenue, he said. Compared to other West San Gabriel Valley cities, Houseman said, "we're in the cellar."

Houseman voiced optimism that the design plan developed by consultants with the help of a citizens committee will bring an economic revival.

"The commercial guidelines are sound and will lead to better development," he said.

But Councilman G. Monty Manibog said that although he supports some of the changes, the city is placing too many restrictions on property owners.

"They're chipping away at property rights," he said.

Some of the changes will slash property values drastically by limiting potential development, Manibog said.

Mayor Cam Briglio sided with Manibog against the council majority of Patricia Reichenberger, Hatch and Houseman on several rezoning proposals. Briglio characterized the changes as downzoning and said, "I'm not prepared to downzone any property if it's going to cause some kind of chaos. We do not need to downzone."

Briglio said the revamped commercial zones are confusing and suggested that the consultants find a simpler system.

De Llamas said the changes in the zoning classifications are so sweeping that it is difficult to compare the new zoning standards with the old. Instead of a system of commercial zones rising in density from C-1 to C-4, the city would have six commercial zones of varying density tailored for specific areas.

For example, a Central Business Zone would replace a mixture of zoning designations in the Garvey-Garfield area where the city hopes to revive its downtown business district. The Regional Specialty Center Zone would apply only to North Atlantic Boulevard, near the San Bernardino Freeway, where the city envisions a major retail center.

The zoning plan is designed to encourage large-scale commercial projects on Atlantic near both the San Bernardino and Pomona Freeways.

All of the zone changes would require voter approval. In addition, the city must submit changes in building height limits and commercial lot sizes to voters before they can go into effect.

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