HomeCommunity NewsProposal for Mixed-Use Building on Mission Rejected

Proposal for Mixed-Use Building on Mission Rejected

The applicant for this 7,118-square-foot mixed-use building on Mission Street will appeal the Planning Commission’s denial of the project.

The Planning Commission last week rejected a proposed mixed-use building on Mission Street, but the applicant and his attorney may have fired a shot across the bow in the process of applying for the perhaps quixotic project.
The discussion also likely opened a door that will be difficult to shut, in that the city will sooner or later have to contend with new housing unit mandates that are to be facilitated through the state Housing Accountability Act. In preparing the application for the new building, attorney Richard McDonald evoked that legislation, likely in anticipation of a swift denial.
McDonald said in a phone interview this week he planned on appealing the decision to the City Council.
In the immediate future, commission vice chair Shelley Boyle said she intends to urge City Hall to consider revisiting the city’s general plan, which was last updated 17 years ago when really, she says, they should last around a decade.
“Each decision we are making is essentially ad hoc,” she contended, “as it is based on a document that is silent to situations such as the one that is currently before us.”
Proposed was a two-story, 7,118-square-foot Spanish-style building, more than 90% of which was dedicated to residential use. A first-floor 638-square-foot studio unit and a vast 5,934-square-foot abode spanning the first and second floor would have wrapped around a small store front taking the remaining 546 square feet. Pasadena-based architect James Coane designed the building.
This immediately ran in contrast with the city’s strict single-family residential zoning outside of the commercial zones along Mission and Huntington Drive. Indeed, the existing home on this property, 2404 Mission St., grandfathers the city’s current zoning for the lot.
“For me, that’s an apartment building,” commissioner Jeri Wright observed last week. “That looks like a two-story apartment building. I’m kind of confused about how it complies with our zoning to begin with, frankly.”
Though the city’s general plan apparently makes no mention of mixed-use construction, the HAA does impose much of Sacramento’s will on even those cities with restrictive planning and land use practices. Essentially, it will likely be difficult for cities to deny projects that meet “objective” general plan and zoning standards unless they create a “specific adverse impact” to public health or safety.
This impact is specifically defined as “a significant, quantifiable, direct and unavoidable impact, based on objective, identified written public health or safety standards, policies or conditions as they existed on the date the application was deemed complete.”
McDonald, speaking for the applicant, argued that the commission had no basis to deny the project. Indeed, the Planning and Building Department had prepared suggested modifications that would have earned a recommended approval from city staff.
“The fact that it is a mixed-use project where the emphasis is on a smaller neighborhood retail frontage — because of the current situation vis-a-vis retail on Mission Street — makes perfect sense,” the Pasadena attorney said. “It’s not something that’s not inconsistent with your general plan. In fact, it’s thoroughly consistent and it’s harmonious with your general plan relating to compatibility.”
Commissioner Howard Brody’s principal issue with the project was its scale compared to other buildings and homes in the legal neighborhood, and unsuccessfully lobbied to continue the hearing on the condition planners would return with a plan that cut 3,700 square feet from the building. (Only Kevin Cheng joined him in affirming that idea.)
“What we’re seeing here is something that’s totally out of line objectively with what we have in this 300-foot radius,” Brody said. “I would certainly be amenable to the concept of these two residential units and a little tiny commercial unit, but it has to comply with and objectively match up with what we’re looking at in the 300-foot radius. That’s where I see this going.”
Commission chair John Dustin seemed to agree, although he ultimately agreed to deny the project. (Cheng cast the lone vote against outright denial in the end.)
“Yes, this project is massive — obscenely massive — but there are, I think, things that can be done as evidenced by some of the conditions suggested by city staff,” Dustin said. “There are lots of things that can be done to make the project more palatable.”
Boyle added to the broader discussion as well, beginning by calling out the applicant, Justin Mi, for having his attorney pre-emptively prepare a letter that she interpreted as a legal threat.
“This type of advocacy invokes, for me, an automatic antagonism that I don’t appreciate,” she said. “Lawyers are tasked with being zealous advocates for their clients and not balancing the interests of the community along with the needs of their clients.”
Boyle also took Mi to task for his apparent “piecemeal” property acquisitions along Mission Street, suggesting he may have a “larger agenda” at play with which he intended to “dupe” the city. As a commissioner, Boyle explained her mindset is to thread the needle of balancing property rights while maintaining the community other residents have moved into.
“I would ask that you internalize this same idea,” she added, “and question if you are being good neighbors with your proposed project and can affirmatively answer that your project is consistent with the community’s standards and that when complete and operational will add value to the community as a whole and not just value to you.”
The brief public comment last Wednesday was no friendlier, with resident Jennifer Giles calling the project a “mansionized residential monstrosity” and imploring the commission to send it “back to the drawing board.”
“This project introduces a new layer of density not found anywhere else in our commercial districts,” she said. “If the intent is to propose a commercial project, why not just do so?
“Hopefully their next iteration will not be an insult to our beautiful city,” Giles added.


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