PASADENA — A unanimous vote last week by the Planning Commission that would permit the demolition of the main building of the Huntington Sheraton hotel may bode well for developers who want to replace it with a replica, according to members of the Board of City Directors.
Although the directors will have the final say, three members said it is likely that they will go along with with the commission's recommendation when they vote on the issue, probably in mid- or late October.
"History says that normally when the Planning Commission looks carefully into a matter, it's not often that it gets changed," said Director William Bogaard, a former mayor who has served on the board for more than eight years.
Two other members of the seven-person board said that if no new evidence is presented, the board will probably approve the zoning change to allow demolition.
"While the board will review very thoroughly evidence and public comments, in absence of new statements being introduced into the picture, I would expect the motion to pass with the board," said Director William Thomson.
"If there's no new testimony, I'd probably agree," said Director Jo Heckman, who emphasized that the board does not "rubber-stamp" commission recommendations.
"We don't always approve their findings. When I get the facts and review the findings, if it's contrary to the commission's decision, I won't go along," she said.
Despite widespread opposition to the plan, the developers, Huntington Hotel Associates, say they hope this is a first step in building a bridge to the community.
"We're very pleased, but this is only the beginning of many hurdles and a lot of work," said Lary Mielke, who formed Huntington Hotel Associates with two other partners to buy the property from Keikyu USA Inc.
The purchase is in escrow, pending final approval of the plan to construct a replica of the hotel.
Mielke had consistently opposed renovating the building, saying it was too costly. Building a replica would cost about $40 million, he said, and could be completed in 18 to 20 months.
The Planning Commission voted 7 to 0 Wednesday to approve a zoning change required to construct a replica of the six-story hotel tower with the proviso that the developers adhere to 33 standards that would guarantee that the new building resemble as closely as possible the old one.
The commission acted after considering detailed technical reports prepared by consultants hired by the city, Huntington Hotel Associates and preservationists intent on saving the palatial main building, which sits atop a knoll in the southern part of the city.
Planning Commission Chairman William Ross said that a recent report affirming an earlier finding of seismic instability turned the tide in favor of a replica instead of renovation.
"The critical report was the last one," he explained.
"In it the conclusion of the engineers was that it was highly probable (the main building) would not be able to withstand major seismic activity."
Ross said planners also considered the economic feasibility and concluded that the cost of renovating the building would be prohibitive.
"The main thrust is that the developer does in fact replicate the structure . . . as well as preserving the aesthetic and visual aspect of the hotel," Ross said.
He added that if the board approves the commission's recommendation, city planners will meet again in six months "to make sure there is progress being made and to avoid a situation where the hotel stays vacant for a long time."
One director was cautious in predicting the outcome of the board's vote on the zoning change.
"The board has on occasion reversed commission findings on both major and minor matters," said Director Rick Cole.
"My sense is that the Planning Commission devoted a conscientious study to this particular issue, but I don't think you can point to any trend. I personally have some questions that were not pursued at the Planning Commission level.
"We have a lot of faith in the Planning Commission, but we're elected and we make the ultimate decisions," Cole said.
Preservationists expressed dissatisfaction with the recommendation.
Judy Gains, chairwoman of Pasadena Heritage, a preservationist group that has steadfastly opposed razing the hotel, said the organization stands by its opposition to a replica but will abide by the directors' decision.
"It is feasible to save the tower and restore and renovate it," Gains said.
"But once the decision is made by the City Board of Directors, Pasadena Heritage will abide by that decision," she said, adding that her group will make every effort to ensure that the conditions imposed by the planners are implemented.
Meanwhile, a leader of Defenders of the Huntington Hotel--a new group formed to assure that the issue receives a thorough hearing before action is taken to demolish the building--said it is considering a referendum against demolition if the board approves the plan.
"I'm not satisfied," said Neil Barker, a Pasadena attorney.
The referendum is "an option to consider. We haven't been very happy with the process," he said.
"We don't want another Ramada Inn, Hilton or Holiday Inn," Barker said. "We want to make sure the hotel has the character and quality of the original."