An End May Be in Sight to Long Shopping Center Controversy : Retail: The $25-million Sport Chalet plan has divided the community since it was proposed 6 years ago.
Both sides are weary and frustrated going into the final phase of the long debate over a controversial proposal by the Sport Chalet to build the first major retail complex and shopping center in La Canada Flintridge.
Six years after the project was first proposed and following a year of exhaustive public hearings, the La Canada Flintridge City Council has entered what it expects to be the last stage of talks to smooth differences between developers and opponents over a proposed $25-million village center at the city’s key intersection, Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway.
Owners of the Sport Chalet, a successful chain of sporting goods stores that began more than 30 years ago in this sleepy mountainside community, have long planned to expand their home operation into a major retail center.
Over the years, the Chalet’s owners, Norbert and Irene Olberz, have bought 30 houses neighboring their retail outlet, which they plan to demolish to make way for an 11.7-acre complex of stores.
The proposal has severely divided the community between those who want to retain the quiet ambience of semi-rural residential estates and others who say the city needs more commercial development and the tax dollars it generates.
A series of hearings expected to conclude in June began last week before the City Council. The next hearing is scheduled at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Descanso Gardens. At that time the council will decide the dates of future hearings.
The shopping center controversy was the focus of a hotly contested City Council election last month in which three council members in favor of the development defeated opponents who were critical of the plan.
After a series of 15 public hearings, the city Planning Commission in February recommended approval of preliminary plans for the shopping center with 59 conditions.
Restrictions sought by residents and city officials included increasing the amount of landscaping required and limiting businesses to retail outlets, which generate sales taxes, rather than service suppliers.
Both the developer and a residents group appealed to the City Council, challenging some conditions. The council must either accept or reject the appeals before acting on the Planning Commission recommendation.
In a presentation to the council last Thursday, Sam Allen, spokesman for the Sport Chalet, asked that the city adopt less stringent controls over the development than those recommended by the Planning Commission.
“We feel some of the conditions anticipate problems” and may be too restrictive in developing a final plan, Allen said. He asked that city staff members be given greater authority in honing details rather than requiring further hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.
Robbie E. Monsma, leader of the I Love La Canada Flintridge Committee, a residents group that also has appealed the Planning Commission decision, argued that the development approved by the commission is too big for the community. “It’s nothing but a big, dressed-up strip center,” she said.
The group repeatedly has asked city officials to consider alternative, scaled-down developments for the Sport Chalet site.
Referring to the pro-development results of the recent election, Monsma told council members, “There is a perception in this community that this council is going to just ram this project through.” She asked that the council, instead, consider alternatives.
In the opening hearing last week, Monsma said, “There have been issues raised that were never even answered” in environmental studies of the current proposal. “We haven’t been listened to,” she told the council. “This is not the right plan for this town. We feel like somehow we did a lot of work for nothing.”
But both sides have indicated that they are tired of the debate.
“We hope that this project becomes a true village center,” Allen told council members. “We have listened to the people.”
“We are not against the Sport Chalet,” Monsma said. “We wish it had happened long ago.”
Unlike earlier hearings, which drew several hundred participants to the large meeting hall at Descanso Gardens, only about 60 residents attended the City Council hearings. Of those, many drifted away because they could not hear speakers over the city’s public address system.