By Katta Hules
Saving Arcadia, the anti-mansionization group, is suing the City of Arcadia. The suit, which is over the controversial proposed two-story house at 1101 S. Fifth Ave., alleges the project is in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the city’s General Plan.
“Our main concern … about the environmental impact of this project is that the city wants to ignore the cumulative impact that all this over-development is having throughout the city,” says Saving Arcadia President David Arvizu.
“This particular technique of suing the landowner and the city has worked before,” says Council Member Roger Chandler.
Early last year, Save the Arcadia Highlands, a smaller anti-mansionization coalition that would later give rise to Saving Arcadia, sued over proposed projects at 1600 Highland Oaks Drive and 29 E. Orange Grove Ave.
According to Mayor Tom Beck, the original Highland Oaks house was well maintained and “a great example of midcentury modern” by a noted local architect, while the Orange Grove property was “in a state of advanced decay” and had no historical significance.
The suit “packaged those two cases … into one lawsuit” and was settled by mediation.
In the current lawsuit, Saving Arcadia was approached by residents of South Fifth Avenue when they were informed about the project.
“The residents of South Fifth Avenue went through all the proper steps prior to deciding to file a lawsuit,” says Arvizu.
The residents appealed the planning commission’s approval, but were denied. They contacted the developer directly and “asked if he would consider a smaller, more compatible design that fit better into the neighborhood – he refused,” says Arvizu. After appealing to the city council and being denied, the residents “decided that their only recourse was to file a lawsuit.”
The project itself is a two-story, 3,588-square-foot single-family residence set to be built in an area that is largely single-story ranch-style homes. “This proposed new home sits in a relatively untouched area of south Arcadia and creates an unusual circumstance, in that it is not compatible with over 98 percent of the existing houses on the street,” says Arvizu.
“We can’t outlaw two stories [homes],” points out Beck, going on to say the proposed size, though “at the outer limits of reasonable for compatibility with the adjoining homes in the neighborhood,” would not be the biggest house on the street (one property is over 6,000 square feet) and “wouldn’t be the first two story home by a long shot.”
Will this case slow development in Arcadia?
“It’s going to have some chilling effect on a developer if they believe that any approval’s going to have a lawsuit filed,” says Beck, noting the recent rush on property seems to be waning. “There’s at least, from my observation, more homes on the market, staying on the market, especially high end ones … Development may be cooling for the reasons of supply and demand, independent of whether this is a deterrent or not.”
Council Member April Verlato disagrees. “We have more applications in Arcadia than any of our neighboring cities. So I don’t think that there’s a slow down, nor do I think that this lawsuit will create a slowdown. There are houses that are being proposed … every week that are getting approved. … This is not going to stop anything.”
Verlato, though not part of Saving Arcadia or the suit, supports it. “It’s representative of how a lot of people are feeling.”
Whether this issue will get to court depends on the developer, WC Investment LLC. The developer could not be reached at the time of publication, but Beck says, “they’ve indicated they want to fight this case.” He hopes it will get to court. “We need a lawsuit to proceed to a judge and get a ruling that the CEQA does or does not apply so that we don’t keep having the threat of lawsuits every time the city council approves a … new home.”
“We have to defend … our right to zone and approve or disapprove construction. It’s a basic right of every municipality,” says Chandler, adding, “This is the worst attack on city authority I’ve witnessed” since joining the council in 1986.
Arvizu says the residents of South Fifth Avenue “are not interested in a cash settlement, what they want is to preserve the charm and quality of life that they enjoy in their neighborhood,” adding they are “willing to take this all the way to court if the city and builder do not reconsider the scale of the proposed house.”