WEST COVINA — City officials last week expected another verbal sparring session with residents opposed to a controversial guide for future development along the San Bernardino Freeway.
Instead, more than half of about 500 people who packed the Senior Citizens Center for a Planning Commission meeting left after a consultant explained the plan and suggested that as few as 30 homes eventually might be demolished.
The speakers at the public forum that followed both endorsed and opposed the plan.
'Plan is Commendable'
"I think the plan is commendable," said Tony Haisman. "Everybody wins if West Covina is developed in an orderly manner like this."
"If you didn't plan you'd be criticized," Oliver Riggins told commissioners. "And yet you plan and are criticized."
West Covina needs to increase its tax base and residents who want the city to simply remain a bedroom community "are just dreaming of the past," he said.
But other residents expressed concern.
"I object to a hotel, shopping center or an office building being built across from my house," said Billie Jean Caldwell. "I don't want to walk out of my front door into a hotel."
Edward W. Goehring, who voiced concern about increased traffic, suggested that the city install noise barriers along the freeway.
"If we get more business in here, that will mean more trucks, more traffic for everyone who lives around here," he said.
The meeting was much less emotional than earlier sessions, when city officials explained the purpose of the $180,00 study.
"There were so many rumors," said Jeffrey Collier, a senior planner for the city. "I really think that once people finally started listening, they began to understand."
The study, prepared by a consulting firm, calls for:
- High-rise office buildings, apartments and mixed-use buildings in the central business district. High-rise office buildings also are recommended for the Eastland Shopping Center area.
- A performing arts center, a visual arts center and a community center in the central business district.
- Expansion of the Fashion Plaza shopping center and the Auto Plaza.
- Hotels at the northwest corner of Grand and Holt avenues.
The consultant, the Arroyo Group of Pasadena, also recommended that the city operate a shuttle between the central business district and the Eastland Shopping Center and extend West Covina Parkway east to Azusa Avenue or Citrus Street.
Other parts of the study call for landscaping along the freeway and city entry points, distinctive buildings that would give the city an identity and pedestrian walkways between major buildings downtown.
"It is just a guide," said Paul Curtis, the city's planning director. "It's a way to provide information to the public and developers."
Response to Inquiries
The 10-month study was conducted in response to inquiries from developers interested in property along the freeway corridor. Such interest convinced officials that development parallel to the freeway from Merced Avenue to Grand Avenue has the greatest potential to generate additional tax revenue.
About 70% of the city's businesses lie within the area and most of the five-mile stretch already is developed. The study calls for additional development of areas the consultant feels are underutilized.
Before Wednesday night's meeting, many of the concerns raised by residents had centered on fears that they would lose their homes.
Planning Commissioner Edward J. Connolly said that the consultant's presentation appeared to appease the fears of many residents.
Many people left the meeting after they examined drawings and saw that their homes would not be affected.
However, five homes on the east side of Vincent Avenue might be removed to make way for retail stores, up to 20 homes on James Avenue and South Baymar Street might be removed to expand the Auto Plaza, three houses on Holt Avenue might be removed for a hotel and one house on Temple Way might be removed for an apartment complex.
Sarah E. Edgell, who could face moving from her home at 113 S. Baymar St., complained that the suggested use on her street "seems like an overrated excuse for car dealers who want to expand. What about all the people who live in all those homes?
"I'd like West Covina to be known (as a place) that cares about the people, all the people, not just the people who bring in revenue," Edgell told the commissioners.
The Planning Commission is expected to take action on the study at its next meeting on Nov. 5. Its recommendations will be forwarded to the City Council on Nov. 17, when residents will get another chance to comment on the study.
Connolly said that he has a potential conflict of interest and may not be able to take part in commission decisions about the study.
Connolly said he rents land on a month-to-month basis on Glendora Avenue where he operates United Rental. He has requested advice from the city attorney, Connolly said.
"They're talking about five or 10 years from now," Connolly added. "I don't even see myself being there then."