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Huntington Project May Be Ballotproof

May 15, 1988|ASHLEY DUNN | Times Staff Writer

PASADENA — Developers of the Huntington Hotel have won what appears to be an exemption from restrictions in a slow-growth initiative on the June ballot.

The exemption stems from a state law that became effective in January that protects developments from changes in city land use policies.

The law states that developers need only satisfy land-use ordinances in place at the time a project's vesting tentative tract map, which marks the boundaries of the project, is approved.

That approval, which is usually a minor part of the city approval process, was granted Wednesday to the Huntington Hotel by the city's Subdivision Committee.

Frees Project

Deputy City Atty. Ann Higginbotham said the approval frees the project from regulations that would be established if the building moratorium is approved by voters June 7.

The initiative calls for a building moratorium until July 1, 1990, or until the city completes rewriting its General Plan to include stricter development standards. The moratorium would stop all major commercial and residential developments, except projects that are unanimously approved by the board. The measure defines "major developments" as 25 or more housing units or projects larger than 25,000 square feet.

The initiative also would require developers to pay a number of new fees aimed at discouraging development and at ensuring that the city would be repaid for street, utility and sewage improvements that largely benefit businesses.

Developers of Pasadena Marketplace, which would convert a block of buildings in Old Pasadena into a shopping mall, and the city, which is planning to build a police station in the Civic Center area, also have applied for tract map approval in an effort to avoid the restrictions of the initiative.

Tract maps for the police station and marketplace are scheduled to be reviewed by the Subdivision Committee May 25.

Still Uncertain

However, Dennis H. Constanzo, director of hotel development for Gemtel Corp., developer of the hotel, said he was uncertain how much protection the approval will bring his project.

"This helps, but there is still confusion," he said. "Are we in, or are we not? That's the $64,000 question."

Constanzo said the confusion stems from the complexity of the slow-growth initiative and differing interpretations of how it would be implemented.

"It's so ambiguously worded that we just don't know," Constanzo said.

Little Significance

Christopher Sutton, an attorney representing the Northeast Pasadena Residents Assn., the sponsor of the initiative, said the approval of the hotel's tract map has little significance.

Initiative supporters had already said the project was exempt because it was approved in a citywide referendum last year.

Donald Zimbler, one leader of the association, said the approval was actually a blessing since it will defuse opponents' argument that the initiative would stop the popular hotel project.

The developers have been planning since 1985 to tear down the hotel's deteriorating main building and replace it with a similar-looking structure. The $40-million project was bitterly opposed by historical preservationists but won approval in the 1987 referendum.

Golden-Age Landmark

The hotel, built in 1907, is considered one of the finest landmarks from the city's golden age as a resort for the rich and famous.

Developers, business people and some city officials are fighting the proposed building moratorium, saying it would end development and create an economic disaster for the city.

But supporters say the initiative would establish reasonable controls on major projects, which have been built at an unprecedented rate in recent years.

New office buildings and apartment complexes have increased traffic, noise and pollution problems in the city, they say.

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