Pasadenans May Force Vote on 184-Unit Townhomes

Times Staff Writer

A northeast neighborhood's fight to stop construction of the 184-unit Rose Townhomes development may soon become a citywide battle.

After a month of collecting signatures in front of grocery stores and shopping malls, residents submitted a petition to the city clerk Thursday with 7,067 signatures, enough, they hope, to force a citywide vote on the development. Under state law, a minimum of 6,312 signatures, representing 10% of the city's registered voters, is required to force a referendum.

City Clerk Pamela Swift still must verify the number of signatures and check to see if each signer is a registered voter in Pasadena. That process is expected to be completed by Feb. 22.

Ruth Hoagland, a leader of the Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., said the group is confident that enough signatures will be validated and that the project will eventually be defeated at the ballot box.

"It's fantastic," she said. "It looked at times like things were grinding so slowly, but we made it."

City Director William Paparian, who represents the area around the proposed development, said the fact that so many people signed the petition indicates growing support for controlling the pace of development in the city.

"The writing is on the wall," he said. "Everywhere the public is swinging toward putting limits on construction and growth."

H. Scott Howell, vice president of Los Angeles-based Calmark Development Corp., the developer of the Rose Townhomes project, said submission of the petition was no surprise.

"We were expecting it," Howell said. "I'm not happy about it, but we are going to go forward, and I'm confident we'll win."

He acknowledged that the project could face an uphill battle if the issue goes to the voters.

"It's very hard for a developer to win," he said. "It's so easy to say, 'Here's an L.A. developer who's going to come in, make a bundle of money and leave behind lots of congestion.' "

But Howell said the project would offer a significant number of new homes that could help ease Pasadena's tight housing situation. The Pasadena Unified School District, which has sold the 16.4-acre site north of Pasadena High School to Calmark, contingent on city approval, would also benefit from the project, he said.

Howell said Calmark is prepared to spend $100,000 to $150,000 to fight a referendum campaign, which allows residents to try to change a city agency's decision through the petition process.

The referendum would overturn the approval by the Board of Directors in December of a zoning change that allows the construction of up to 11 homes on each acre, compared to a maximum of six homes an acre in the surrounding neighborhood.

If 6,312 signatures are verified, the board must either rescind the zoning change or put the issue on the June 7 ballot.

Paparian said he would push to have the board rescind its decision, rather than put the issue on the ballot, to prevent a divisive, expensive and time-consuming election. But he conceded that it was unlikely that the board would agree.

Residents have been fighting the Rose Townhomes project since it first went before the board last August. They argue that the developers are proposing to build too many homes on too little land, which would create problems with traffic, noise and congestion in the area.

Donald Zimbler, another leader of the residents association, said the group does not want to ban development on the property, only to restrict the developer to building a maximum of six homes per acre.

The fight has won the support of a new group called Pasadena Residents In Defense of Their Environment (PRIDE), which hopes the issue will help galvanize slow-growth sentiment in the city.

The group is still organizing and did not take an active role in the petition drive, but some of its members helped as individuals.

Group members include veterans of previous slow-growth and preservation fights, including Claire Bogaard, executive director of the historical preservation group, Pasadena Heritage, and Kit-Bacon Gressitt, one of the leaders in the unsuccessful fight to stop the demolition of the Huntington Hotel.

The Rose Townhomes project is one of the largest housing developments ever proposed in the city. It would include 20 single-family detached homes and 164 duplexes, ranging in price from $160,000 to $215,000.

The issue would be the second referendum to go before city voters in less than a year.

Last May, historical preservationists forced a referendum in an unsuccessful attempt to overturn the city's decision to allow a developer to demolish the Huntington Hotel and replace it with a similar-looking modern hotel.

It cost the city $78,000 to verify the signatures and hold the special election.

Swift estimated that it would cost the city up to $34,000 to verify the signatures and hold an election on the Rose Townhomes issue, because the election can be held in conjunction with the California presidential primary on June 7.

The residents association is also pursuing an initiative that would, among other things, impose a moratorium on major developments until 1990 and prohibit the use of city money to fund street and utility improvements for major developments.

The association hopes to return its petition, which also requires the signatures of 10% of the voters, next month, in time to also have it placed on the June 7 ballot.

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