All Saints expansion faces scrutiny

More than a decade after launching an effort to expand one of Pasadena’s best-known churches, members of All Saints Episcopal Church hope they are only a few months away from breaking ground on their $45-million project.

But some critics are concerned that the changes will undermine the Pasadena Civic Center Historical District.

All Saints officials expect that by October they will have the final environmental impact report for the project, which includes four multi-story buildings for classrooms, offices and event space; a columbarium; and a one-level subterranean parking lot.

“We have such a desperate need for the buildings and desire to get it done; it’s a shame it’s taken this long,” said Bob Long, a member of the parish’s building committee. “It started about 1999 when we formed a committee to study our space needs. We have a lot of meetings, programs and ministries.”

Long said the church has raised nearly half the $45-million construction tab, but has suspended the fundraising campaign until the environmental review process is complete.

When Pasadena city officials were presented with the church’s plans in late 2008, they believed the environmental impact would be minimal and no report would be needed. But members of the public weighed in with questions and concerns, and in 2010 city planners and attorneys advised All Saints to do a report.

The draft environmental impact report released earlier this summer found the project raised no serious problems, according to Antonio Gardea, a city planner.

The report, he said, “determined the impact was less than significant, not only to the civic center, but All Saints and individual landmarks,” Gardea said. He added the remaining debate is about whether the project design is compatible with nearby buildings.

Sue Mossman, executive director of the preservation group Pasadena Heritage, doesn’t believe it is compatible. Pasadena Heritage put the Gothic Revival church, built in 1924, on its 2011 watch list of endangered landmarks.

“It’s considered one of the best examples in the county of the City Beautiful Movement of the 1920s,” Mossman said. “It feels like a unique, special place that has a unifying character all its own. When you add new buildings to a district, great sensitivity is required to make them compatible.”

Mossman said the new buildings proposed by architect Michael Palladino don’t fit in with the rest of the area.

“They’re glass boxes, very clean, cold and sterile architecture,” Mossman said. “They appear to have little if any relationship with the historic civic center buildings.”

Long said church leaders believe the new buildings will enhance the civic center.

“Some people think we ought to try and replicate the current architecture,” Long said. “First off, it’s probably expensive [to do that], and second it would look awful because you can’t redo it that way.

“We have a forward-looking parish that is well grounded historically,” Long added. “We don’t see a clash between the old and new.”

Members of the public may comment on the draft environmental report, and will be allowed to comment on the final study to be released in October. The Planning Commission and City Council are expected to vote on whether to approve the report later this year or early in 2012.

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