SAN GABRIEL — Slow-growth leaders calling for a one-year moratorium on development say they have not been mollified by the City Council's recent adoption of new restrictions on residential and commercial construction.
The city contends that its new building regulations, including cuts in the number of apartments that can be built on lots and expanded requirements for parking and recreational space in apartment and condominium projects, will slow development in the city by making it tougher to build.
"The new ordinance still allows for more apartments and condos," said Greg O'Sullivan, chairman of Citizens for Responsible Development, a grass-roots group that has focused homeowners' outrage over San Gabriel's full-speed-ahead building boom in recent years. The group wants all development, except some expansion of existing buildings, to be halted for a year.
Slow-growth advocates such as O'Sullivan contend that the pace of development in San Gabriel has radically altered the city, eroding its small-town character, choking its streets with traffic and overburdening city services.
With a citizen-initiated ballot measure calling for a one-year development moratorium scheduled to go to the voters in a special election Dec. 15, the council has approved what city officials call a moratorium of its own. "In a sense it is a moratorium," said City Administrator Robert Clute. "We're saying there's a moratorium on construction except under the regulations as laid down in the ordinance."
Among other things, the new regulations restrict the number of apartments that can be built on a given lot, require deeper setbacks and more open space and call for more parking spaces in new residential and commercial developments.
For example, the new regulations permit no more than 18 apartments on a one-acre lot zoned for multifamily residences. The old rules allowed up to 34. On a one-acre lot zoned for low-density multifamily homes, developers can build nine units, compared to 17 in the past.
For each new apartment with more than one bedroom, the old regulations required only two parking spaces. The new regulations require three or more, some of them in garages rather than in open space.
The council approved the regulations last month as a 45-day emergency ordinance, which will eventually be extended to a year. City officials say the regulations are part of the new development strategy they are preparing for the city.
"We still have further things to do on this," said Clute. "There will be further refinements in the existing ordinance."
City Planner Dennis Mackay added: "Some of the development standards that were on the books didn't really provide for things like traffic circulation, parking and open space, aesthetically pleasing development, efficient use of a site--things like that."
But leaders of Citizens for Responsible Development say the new rules were approved solely because of pressure from their group. "They didn't bring this to the public until the day our initiative petition qualified for the ballot," said O'Sullivan. "It's too much of a coincidence that, on the very night that the council acted on our petition, they put forward this surprise ordinance that came from nowhere."
City officials respond that they have been discussing and implementing curbs on development since November, 1986, when they imposed a 45-day moratorium on certain kinds of construction. "There was quite an outcry from some developers at that time," Clute said.
O'Sullivan's group contends that in the past, city-initiated development restrictions only increased the pace of development. For example, after the city imposed new limits on multi-unit apartments last January, it approved applications for 180 new apartment units.
"We calculate that if applications continue at the same rate, the total will exceed the number approved in 1986," said John Tapp, a spokesman for the homeowners group. The city approved 328 units last year, the highest number in recent years.
The group also claims that the council, which co-chairman Gary Meredith characterized as "concrete-happy," cannot be trusted to maintain the new regulations. The ordinance "allows for variations to be issued, and can even be totally dropped at any time in the future at the whim of the council," Meredith said.
"I believe the council is very pro-development," added Tapp. "If they felt pressured by developers who wanted to build more in the city, I think the council would go along with that. That's what they've shown in the past, it seems to me."
Clute acknowledged that the ordinance allows developers to appeal if they feel that their cases are unusual enough to exempt them from the regulations. "The Citizens for Responsible Development are pressing for an initiative that would stop everything," he said. "Property owners would have no relief, no right to appeal, no use of their land at all. That's what the city attorney has been objecting to."