Lake and Colorado Project Gets Final Go-Ahead

Pasadena Star News, Posted: 12/14/2010 12:18:19 PM PST

PASADENA – Final approval of the $76 million Colorado and Lake project, including restoration of the historic Constance Hotel, came at 1 a.m. Tuesday when the City Council rejected opponents’ third appeal of the development.

After a marathon public hearing, the council – with Councilmembers Jacque Robinson and Terry Tornek absent – took no action, thus upholding the Board of Zoning Appeals approval on Nov. 17.

“We’re very pleased that (the City Council) showed great wisdom in letting the board’s decision stand,” Richard A. McDonald, an attorney for developers Park Place Commercial, said Tuesday. “They showed great vision in letting the project go forward and revitalizing that part of town.”

The project – which must now go through design review – includes a phase one restoration of the Constance Hotel, its courtyard, and the vintage one-story commercial buildings at 880-940 E. Colorado Blvd., plus a new three-story parking garage.

The second phase has a new six-story building at Lake and Colorado, underground parking, and a rear hotel addition, possibly with five condominiums.

The developer, part of Arcadia-based Singpoli Pacifica, agreed to a City Council request to add a surety bond indemnity to the conditions of approval, exempting the city from any related legal actions.

The appeal was the third in three months by the Pasadena Coalition for Responsible Development, which includes Unite Here Local 11 hotel workers union, Michelle White of Affordable Housing Services, and Peter Dreier, director of Occidental College’s urban and environmental policy program.

Rachel Torres, a spokeswoman for the hotel-workers union, said Tuesday that they had no comment on the decision or on any possible future legal challenge.

“It was a long and arduous debate, and unfortunately some council members weren’t there to weigh in,” Torres said. “There was a lot at stake.”

The union paid almost $8,000 to file the appeals, which were denied both by the zoning appeals board and by a hearing officer on Oct. 20.

In a packed Council Chambers Monday night, about 20 speakers commented on the project’s Environmental Impact Report.

Those in favor included the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, the South Lake Business Association and a couple of neighboring small business owners, including Phil Balderama, 25-year owner of Taste of Bangkok restaurant, which will have to relocate when the project begins. Pasadena Heritage left a letter in support.

Opponents, who were in the majority, incuded ministers, affordable houaing and seniors’ advocates. There was criticism of the parking, traffic and fiscal impact studies for the 1.95-acre project; the way elderly or disabled residents of Pasadena Manor were evicted by the then-property owner three years ago to make way for the hotel restoration; and what some said were poorly paid hotel jobs being generated with the $11.1 million in tax-exempt federal Recovery Zone Facilities Bonds the city allocated to restore the hotel.

The City Council echoed some of those concerns, including regrets over the way the Pasadena Manor evictions were handled.

But Bogaard said the “heart of the argument of opponents” focused on the fiscal analysis, which is not part of the EIR, plus traffic and lack of affordable housing.

The arguments presented, he said, were “less than compelling.

The area zoning does not permit housing – Pasadena Manor was technically an assisted living facility – and the city does not require property owners to “consider uses others think are more socially valuable,” he said.

The traffic studies twice stood up to appeal, Bogaard said, and hotel pay will be “market-rate” and based on what it takes to attract staff. If pay is at the low end, about $11 an hour, it will still be within a few cents of Pasadena’s living-wage standard, he said.

And, the mayor said, the council could not consider a lawsuit involving a related development company’s alleged “non-payment of a sales commission” in the approval process.

With just 18 days to go until the Dec. 31 deadline for issuing $11.1 million in federal tax-exempt bonds, the developers were due to meet Tuesday with bank representatives, McDonald said.

“It’s going to be a speed race,” McDonald said. “But we’re going to do our best to get it.”

If the deadline is missed, the city’s entire fund allocation will be lost since it can’t be passed to another project, according to City Treasurer Vic Erganian.

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