Good, but not good enough.
That was the message the builder of a proposed 75-unit assisted-living facility received from the Sierra Madre Planning Commission Thursday night after presenting the commission with various design alterations based on the commission's recommendations from past meetings. The commission asked for further tweaks to the project, known as the Kensington Project, which will then be presented and discussed at a June 7 meeting.
"You're dipping your toes in the water, but you haven't jumped in yet," said planning commissioner Bob Spears to Billy Shields, the executive director of Fountain West Development, the Kensington's builders.
The commission did manage to dive into several facets of the project, such as what kind of use it would fall under, its possible impact on Measure V and the city's General Plan and even the definition of dwelling units. While nothing was decided as far as approval of the project, the commission unanimously voted that the project would be deemed "residential" use instead of commercial or institutional.
Commercial use talk led off Shields' slideshow presentation to the commission at the meeting's start, which outlined the shift of commercial retail space to the front of the building, facing the street on the ground floor, per suggestions from the commission. You can see Shields' slides in the staff report attached to this article.
Shields also brought up statistics to allay any concerns about the facilities' possible water use, saying those in an assisted-living facility trend toward using 20 percent less water than a typical family. Architect Mark Hendrickson laid out several design elements regarding the proposed courtyard area and points of entry into the complex.
But several commissioners took issue with the existence of street-facing, ground-level bedroom or bathroom spaces still in the design, as well as a lack of street-level elevation. The issue of use was also engaged, as Scott Jenkins, the attorney for Fountain West, and several commissioners noted that the "hybrid" project "does not fit neatly" into the categories of residential, commercial or institutional use.
There was little confusion from residents who spoke at the meeting, many of whom decried the notion that Measure V, the General Plan or any city code could be adjusted to "conform" to the project's needs. Others took issue with the proposed location of the Kensington within the city's business thoroughfare on Sierra Madre Boulevard. More residents spoke of the need for an assisted-living facility in the city, which would be better than the alternative of having to leave town to live somewhere else.
The definition of dwelling units eventually surfaced, with most of the commissioners stating that they did not see the Kensington spaces as dwelling units because of the lack of kitchens. Commissioner John Vandevelde stated that the kitchen requirement applied to the code of every other city he's seen. Commissioner Kevin Paschall brought up Measure V's definition of a dwelling unit, which is "one or more rooms in a building designed and intended to be used as living quarters by one person or a family."
Vandevelde noted, however, that while he doesn't see the Kensington spaces as dwelling units, he still sees possible density issues that Measure V might not specifically define.
In March, the city council approved placing a ballot measure regarding the project on the November ballot. By the letter of the law, it violates the boundaries of Measure V, which limits the number of dwelling units to 13. But the measure's exact language is also in flux until the Kensington's plans are finalized and the city council irons out the details in a future meeting.
What is certain, Spears noted, is that it is up to the commission to "put the best project forward" to the city council. He and other commissioners called for a more "robust" use to commercial space, as well as a greater effort for the Kensington's developers to "think outside the box" and operate more on mixed-use terms.
"If we're going to allow a project that can change this city, it needs to be in a direction we can all agree on," said Commissioner Thomas Pendlebury. "I don't think what we're seeing is what we're asking for."
Other Kensington coverage: