When developers agreed in 1984 to build a 10-story, 200-room hotel on what had been an ill-fated redevelopment site in Baldwin Park, city officials were convinced that a 12-year struggle had ended.
The specter of failure had hung over the site since 1977, when plans for two hotels and a shopping center fell through after the state Court of Appeal sided with angry residents and killed that project.
Plans for the new project pleased even officials in neighboring West Covina, where some homes would have been about 200 feet from the guest rooms.
The hotel, which developers hope will be a Hilton, is only part of the proposed $31.5-million Baldwin Park Town Center project. Construction has already started on a Vons Pavilions grocery store. Plans for the 17.5-acre site, located at Puente and Merced avenues north of the San Bernardino Freeway, also include 35 shops and three restaurants.
However, West Covina officials now are fighting a revision in the plan that would put some of the hotel's rooms within 52 feet of homes in their city.
Even though Baldwin Park will have the final say, what had appeared to be a simple procedural process has become mired in an inter-city dispute.
"We're reaching the conclusion that an evil spirit has inhabited the project area," said John Hemer, director of housing and economic development for Baldwin Park. "We may have to consider an exorcism to ensure the success of the project."
Despite objections from West Covina, the Baldwin Park Planning Commission on Jan. 28 granted Vista Hosts, a hotel-management firm based in Houston, a conditional-use permit for the revised plan.
In a letter to the Baldwin Park Planning Commission opposing the revision, Michael L. Miller, West Covina's acting planning director, wrote that the new plan would allow "hotel windows to look directly down into the residential neighborhood."
"If action is taken to approve this project as proposed," Miller wrote, "West Covina may have no alternative for the protection of our residents but to take the necessary steps to see that all project impacts are addressed. If they are not addressed, then they may have to be addressed at a higher level."
Now West Covina plans to ask the Baldwin Park City Council to repeal that permit.
But Baldwin Park's Hemer says "there may be somebody starting to shoot when there's no war."
"The matter of privacy, partly because none of the residents raised it, is a concocted issue," Hemer said. "I don't know what people in West Covina do in their backyards at midnight. I suspect probably nothing."
West Covina's concerns about the location of the hotel, Hemer said, are "merely a case of overexuberance regarding a non-issue."
Miller retorted that a survey taken two weeks ago by the city showed that 16 of 18 people interviewed do not want the hotel rooms so close to their homes.
In hopes of resolving the dispute, West Covina Mayor Chester Shearer and Baldwin Park Mayor Jack B. White met recently. White agreed to call a special council meeting on Friday to consider the West Covina concerns.
Nightclub Sparked Revision
Baldwin Park officials say that the hotel plan was revised because it originally included a nightclub that would have been closer to the West Covina homes than the hotel rooms, which would have faced away from the homes.
The plan was revised to minimize traffic and noise from the nightclub by placing it farther from the homes, Baldwin Park officials said.
And Stanley W. Gribble, whose Newport Beach development firm is a partner in the shopping center, said that the plan was changed because the hotel as originally placed would have blocked visibility of the major retailer in the shopping center from westbound San Bernardino Freeway traffic.
Baldwin Park Planning Commissioner Frank J. Fitzgerald said that West Covina's Miller thought that putting the hotel rooms, rather than the nightclub, closer to the homes was a "major change."
"I guess it could be considered a major change, but the change was for the better of the neighborhood as we saw it," Fitzgerald said.
The city is particularly interested in completing the project because of the site's controversial history.
The city's first--and most unsuccessful--redevelopment project was proposed on the site 13 years ago.
In 1974, the Community Redevelopment Agency was formed to finance a proposed 19-acre, $15-million development, which would have included a Sheraton hotel, a Highlander Six motor inn and a K-mart discount store.
The City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, expanded the project to include a 50-acre site about 1 1/2 miles south of the San Bernardino Freeway at the intersection of the freeway and Baldwin Park Boulevard.
Baldwin Park officials were hoping that this and later redevelopment projects would offset the city's economic burdens. About 10% of the city's population was unemployed and about 18% was on welfare, both among the highest in the county.
Challenge to Ordinance