PASADENA — Residents fighting to stop the construction of one of the largest housing developments ever proposed in this city--the Rose Townhomes--have begun mobilizing a referendum movement to bring the issue to a citywide vote.
The residents' decision to battle the proposal through the ballot box came after the Board of Directors voted 5 to 2 on Sunday to approve the 184-home project and the zoning change necessary for the project to proceed.
Although the board's decision was a stinging defeat for residents living near the proposed development, neighborhood leaders say they are confident that they can rally voters throughout the city to their cause.
If the residents are successful in forcing a referendum, voters will be asked to approve or reject the zoning change, which would allow construction of up to 11 homes per acre.
But Amos Hoagland, a leader of the neighborhood group fighting the project, said the real issue is controlling development throughout the city, not just in the area near Pasadena High School where the town homes would be built.
"Slow growth touches a responsive chord in a lot of people these days," Hoagland said. "The rest of the city is just as concerned about traffic and pollution and congestion."
Several community activists who have been involved in previous initiative movements said the Rose Townhomes issue could spark a slow-growth movement throughout the city, which has not been a part of the anti-development rebellion spreading throughout the San Gabriel Valley.
"The bigger picture is that more and more people are getting angry about what is being done to their city," said Anthony Thompson, a leader of the unsuccessful referendum to save the Huntington Sheraton hotel from demolition. "Slow growth has been smoldering for a long time. Maybe now it's coming."
But Calmark President John Huskey said he expects a broad range of support to surface from people who have been cut out of Pasadena's extremely limited housing market and would welcome a large project such as the Rose Townhomes.
"There are an awful lot of people out there looking for homes," he said. "This is a meaningful number of homes, and many may see it as an opportunity they don't want to lose."
Huskey said he also expects strong support from parents and teachers in the Pasadena Unified School District, which stands to gain $9.3 million from the sale of its 16.4-acre tract for the Rose Townhomes.
The school board has said it plans to use the money to establish an endowment fund that would help to maintain educational programs threatened by state cutbacks in funding.
"The money that will go to the district will benefit everybody," said Director Jess Hughston. "The educational system is the most important activity that occurs here."
The project would be built on one of the last and largest tracts of vacant land in the city.
The property, on Washington Boulevard just south of the Eaton Canyon Reservoir, is owned by the school district but has been sold to Calmark contingent upon city approval of the project.
The development would include 20 single-family detached homes and 164 duplexes, ranging in price from $160,000 to $215,000.
The two-story homes, with two to four bedrooms, would be reminiscent of the Craftsman-style homes common in other parts of the city, the developers said.
To lessen the impact on the surrounding neighborhood, Calmark has proposed building a strip of single-family detached homes that would face the existing neighborhood.
The higher-density duplexes would be behind the strip of detached homes.
Huskey said Calmark has changed its plans several times to appease critics, including reducing the number of homes from 230 to 220 to 202 to 200 and finally to 184.
But regardless of the changes, neighbors still say the project is too much on too little land.
The project approved Sunday has an average of 11 homes per acre, compared to six homes per acre in the surrounding neighborhood.
Some opponents have called the Rose Townhomes plan "claustrophobic"; others refer to it as a "rabbit hutch."
At the meeting Sunday, residents asked the board to reject Calmark's proposal and change the property's zoning designation to allow only six homes per acre, or a total of 98 homes.
Directors William Paparian, who represents the area, and Rick Cole were the only board members to support the neighbors, who have turned in 1,700 petitions against the project.
"When you have 1,700 people saying no, we must say no," Paparian said. "Because of financial expediency, are we going to disregard an entire community?"
But the other directors argued that the project would provide badly needed funds for the school district and help ease the housing crunch.
"It is a stated goal of this board to facilitate housing in this city," said Director Kathryn Nack. "Here's an instance where a private company is going to provide housing."