PASADENA — Developers of the proposed Rose Townhomes project say the imposition this week of a $384,000 park and recreation fee and the threat of an expensive referendum battle could edge the controversial project closer to collapse.
The fee, which the Board of Directors approved Monday, and the expense of fighting a referendum could increase the cost of the project by $500,000, said H. Scott Howell, vice president of Calmark Development Corp.
Howell said the fee would further reduce a profit margin that has been shrinking as Calmark has agreed to reduce the number of housing units from 230 to 184 units to appease concerned residents.
Calmark now must take a hard look at whether the project is still financially feasible, he said.
'Hope It Isn't Fatal'
"It's a real heavy blow. I hope it isn't fatal, but I just can't say now if it is or not," Howell said.
The fee, which would pay for additional park space needed because of the development, was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Directors Jess Hughston, Kathryn Nack and John Crowley voting against it.
The decision marks an about-face for the board, which agreed in September to eliminate a $186,000 park and recreation fee when the developer cut the size of the project from 200 to 184 units. The fee represented a charge of $1 per square foot of housing built.
Earlier this month, the Planning Commission recommended reinstating the fee, using a formula that required Calmark to provide a set amount of recreation space for every 1,000 people living in the development. That fee would have amounted to $264,000.
By Monday's board meeting, a recalculation of the Planning Commission's formula had increased the fee to $384,000.
The board gave the developer the option of providing the cash or the necessary recreation space, which is estimated to be just under seven-tenths of an acre of land either within the project or nearby.
Howell said there is no room for additional recreation space within the 16.4-acre site, so Calmark will be forced to look outside.
"We're starting to look, but I just don't know if we'll find any," Howell said.
Hughston said he voted against the $384,000 fee because the board had earlier decided not to impose any recreation fee and because he considered it excessive.
But Director William Thomson said the fee would add only about $2,000 to the cost of each house--a modest amount considering the burden the development would put on existing recreation facilities. "It's a small concession," he said.
Howell countered: "There's a whole slew of additional costs on any project. Singly, they don't add up to much. But in total, they've become a big increase."
The decision to impose the fee was hailed as a "small victory" by nearby residents who have waged a vocal campaign against the project.
Mary Zimbler, one leader of the fight, said: "It may deter him some, but I also think the developer will come up with the money. He pretends he's in trouble, but he always comes up with the money in the end."
If the new fee doesn't sink the project, the residents are banking on defeating it at the ballot box.
A group called the Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn. has already announced its intention to pursue a referendum, in which residents can overturn ordinances in a citywide election.
The board has already approved the ordinance allowing the project, but must review it two more times before it is officially adopted. Once the ordinance is official, the group must collect about 6,600 petition signatures, representing 10% of the city's registered voters, to force a referendum.
"We're all revved up and ready to go," said resident Ruth Hoagland.
Opponents have attacked the project as it went through the city approval process, saying it would put too many homes on too little land.
The project would have 11 homes on each acre, compared to the maximum of six homes per acre in the surrounding neighborhood.
Calmark's project would be located on the largest tract of vacant land remaining in the city.
The property, on Washington Boulevard just north of Pasadena High School, is owned by the school district but has been sold to Calmark for $9.3 million 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, Howell said.