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Record Levels of Construction : Pasadena Building Boom Stirs Rumbles of Concern for Future

September 27, 1987|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — "Slow growth" may be the new battle cry for much of the San Gabriel Valley, but in Pasadena, "Charge!" may be the more appropriate slogan.

After several years of modest growth, construction in the city has begun to leap toward record-setting levels that belie the city's reputation as a tough town for developers.

According to building permit figures, the most accurate indicator of development trends, proposals for residential and commercial developments have begun to eclipse the heyday of construction in the early 1980s.

During the fiscal year that ended in June, records show, more than $190 million in new construction was approved by the city, eclipsing the previous record of $137 million set in 1982-83.

The monetary value of construction climbed by 70% over the 1985-86 fiscal year and, if the first two months of this fiscal year are an indication, the total will mount even higher.

In July and August, building permits were granted for more than $42 million in new projects, which could send the year's total far beyond the $190-million mark, officials said.

"Just until recently we had nothing under construction," said Donald H. Nollar, head of the city's Planning, Housing and Development Services Department. "Now we're swamped."

The boom has been largely fueled by plans for new office buildings but the permits issued include such projects as industrial developments and home repairs.

And although many city officials are happy about the quality and quantity of development now changing the city's skyline, they are also concerned about problems created by rapid development.

New office towers will attract thousands of commuters and apartments and condominiums will turn parts of the city into high-density urban villages.

Although residents still call their home the Rose City, some say it is on the verge of becoming a bramble of congested streets, cramped neighborhoods and oversized buildings.

"We've got a limited window of time to come up with solutions," said city Director William Thomson. "If we don't, we're going to see Pasadena facing the same no-growth initiatives that are happening all over California."

The most dramatic increase is in construction of office buildings. The city approved $44 million in new construction permits last year, compared to $10 million in fiscal 1985-86 and $12 million the year before that.

Adding Office Space

The amount for 1986-87 is still below the $76-million record set four years ago, but Nollar said several large projects, such as the 420,000-square-foot Ahmanson office project on Colorado Boulevard, are now on the drawing boards.

The projects approved during the last fiscal year, plus those now under construction, will add about 900,000 square feet of office space to the city's existing stock of 6.3 million square feet, according to city records.

Another approximately 1 million square feet would be added by proposed projects such as Plaza Las Fuentes on North Los Robles Avenue, Santa Fe Depot on Arroyo Parkway and the Ahmanson building. The three projects would also include retail developments.

The amount of residential construction approved by the city has also increased at an unusually rapid pace during the last two fiscal years.

In 1986-87, $65 million in residential construction was approved, compared to $53 million in 1985-86 and $26 million the fiscal year before that.

The vast majority of the projects were apartments and condominiums; the city approved 925 units last year. In 1985-86, 704 units were approved, compared to 424 units the year before that.

'Time to Take Another Look'

William Reynolds, head of the city's Development Department, said the surge is tied to the last major development boom in the city.

"We went through a cycle in the early 1980s where there was an awful lot of space built and for awhile a lot of it stood vacant," he said. "But as that has been leased up, I think developers are saying, 'It's time to take another look at Pasadena.' "

The office vacancy rate in the early 1980s had gone as high as 30%, he said, but now has fallen to 14%.

"It's feast or famine," said Ted Tanner, project manager of the Santa Fe Pacific Realty Corp., which is developing the Santa Fe Depot project. "Everyone charges ahead to get ahead of the next guy and then it takes awhile for all the space to be absorbed."

Part of the increased building demand stems from the failure of housing construction to keep pace with the city's growing population.

Location a Factor

Workers who fill the new glass towers or provide services to their employees have boosted the city's population from 118,961 in 1980 to 130,787 in 1986, about a 10% increase.

But during the same period, the number of housing units increased only 2%, according to city records.

Anthony Rice, project manager for Cantwell Anderson, a Pasadena housing development company, pointed out that demand has always been high because of the city's proximity to Los Angeles and its many cultural, social and educational amenities.

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