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Monrovia Plans Auto Row Next to Duarte’s

Times Staff Writer

Monrovia officials started getting nervous two years ago.

The Toyota dealership in the city’s auto row had announced it was moving to neighboring Duarte as the first tenant in a new auto mall along the Foothill Freeway.

“The Toyota deal really woke us up,” said Monrovia Community Development Director Don Hopper. Until then, he said, the city had been content to leave its auto row along Huntington Drive.

Fearful of losing its remaining auto franchises--and their sales taxes--Monrovia is creating an auto row next to Duarte’s.

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The combined result, scheduled for completion by 1990, will be one of the largest auto centers in Southern California.

The 47-acre car shopper’s mecca begins half a block from Highland Avenue in Duarte and will stretch along Central Avenue to Shamrock Avenue in Monrovia. It will also extend north on Mountain Avenue in Monrovia. Eight of the dealerships will be in Monrovia and 10 will be in Duarte.

The total will rival the 16 franchises in Cerritos and 29 in National City near San Diego. Ten franchises are already in the 210 Freeway Autoplex. Eight others have agreed to move there.

An unlikely beneficiary of the development is the Duarte Unified School District.

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School officials are looking forward to a $12-million educational complex they will get in exchange for land the district owned along the freeway.

“We needed the property, and the school needed new facilities,” Duarte Assistant City Manager Manuel Ontal said.

The district’s administration building along the freeway and the adjacent Northview Middle School will be razed to make way for four auto dealerships and relocated next to Duarte High School. The resulting educational complex will include the high school, new facilities for the administration office and middle school, and a 500-seat auditorium.

The city Redevelopment Agency, which will be paying for the new facilities, is counting on additional sales taxes from the auto dealerships to recover the cost of the construction, Ontal said.

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An enthusiastic Supt. Robert Packer expects the facilities to allow broadened curricula and sharing of some staff between the middle school and high school.

The new auditorium will also fill a void, he said. Students were forced to perform a musical at Citrus Community College in Glendora this spring because there wasn’t a large enough auditorium in Duarte.

Officials hope the administration building will be completed by April, 1989, and the middle school by next September.

The idea of creating an auto row had not crystallized when Duarte officials persuaded the Toyota dealership in Monrovia to move to their city. As bait they offered a site along the freeway.

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More Franchises Agreed

The concept of a mall developed as more franchises agreed to open in Duarte, Ontal said. Until then, Duarte only had two small used-car dealerships on Huntington Drive.

The city, whose 1987-88 budget was $13.8 million, saw the chance to increase the $1.3 million it collects annually in sales taxes, Finance Director Don Pruyn said. The city hopes to collect between $2 million and $3 million each year from the 10 franchises planned for its auto row.

The Toyota dealer who moved from Monrovia noticed a rapid rise in profits after relocating in Duarte.

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Owner Sid Gersh said that almost from the first day “we more than tripled our sales, and we continue to improve (sales) almost on a monthly basis.”

When in Monrovia, Gersh said the dealership ranked below the top 300 in sales among Toyota’s 1,100 franchises nationwide. Duarte Toyota was rated 24th in 1987, he said. He sells 350 to 400 cars a month.

To ensure that it didn’t lose its other six franchises, Monrovia decided to start an auto row along the freeway. When a Hyundai dealer approached Monrovia, the city had found the first occupant of its new auto row, Hopper said.

The dealerships left in the city were considering moving to find sites along the freeway. They had been located on Huntington, the city’s primary commercial strip, since the 1950s. All eagerly agreed to join Hyundai along the freeway.

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$1.5 Million in Sales Tax

It is costing Monrovia $15 million to buy the 19 acres for the auto mall. Eight franchises will occupy the mall when it is completed in May, 1989. The city hopes to buy land owned by the state Department of Transportation on Huntington and Mountain for two more franchises.

The city hopes to gain $1.5 million in additional sales taxes from the auto row, Hopper said. Monrovia’s 1987-88 budget was $18.3 million, with an estimated $4.1 million in sales tax for the year.

Construction began last month on the education complex in Duarte.

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The 1,100-student high school and the 700-student middle school will share some facilities and staff, Packer said. The adjacent city swimming pool and recreation center will also be used for classes.

“One teacher could handle both bands,” he said, adding that the district expects to eventually reduce its teaching staff at the two schools by three or four through attrition.

Students will have new opportunities with what Packer touts as “21st-Century” facilities. The auditorium will include a television studio for production courses, and a satellite television dish will be able to pick up lessons from around the world, he said.

More computer classes will be added, and gifted and talented junior high school students could begin the first year of algebra or a foreign language at the high school. This will allow students to take more electives in their junior and senior years, he said.

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But all has not gone smoothly with the auto row development.

One family took Duarte to court after their land was acquired by eminent domain. The litigation will not affect construction schedules because only the amount of compensation is being disputed.

“If the school or freeway was expanding and they had to take homes, it would have been a lot easier for us to swallow,” said Christina Lizardo, whose 9,156-square-foot lot on Central was appraised at $185,000 by a consultant she hired.

She rejected the city’s final offer of $125,000, Duarte City Manager Jesse Duff said.

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When the two sides could not agree on a price, the city took the property by eminent domain and began eviction procedures. After the Lizardos erected signs protesting their eviction, the city cited them for putting up signs without the proper permits. The charges were later dropped.

Meanwhile, owners of the property on which the junior high school will be built have filed a $4-million suit against Duarte for denying them use of their 89,000-square-foot property.

Moratorium Imposed

In 1986, the city imposed a building moratorium on the land, a residential-zoned plot on which developers John E. Plount and San Gabriel Properties planned to build two apartment complexes.

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The Redevelopment Agency included the land in its redevelopment plans in May and adopted a resolution to condemn the property in July.

Monrovia experienced a similar battle with some landowners.

In Monrovia a recreational vehicle storage facility and a manufacturing plant were taken by eminent domain. The city acquired the 150,000-square-foot storage yard for $2.5 million, Hopper said. The price of the 160,000-square-foot manufacturing plant will be decided in court. The city has offered $5.5 million but the owners are asking for $7 million.


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