WHITTIER — City officials are considering a temporary ban on building in some areas of the Uptown business district until a consultant completes a post-earthquake design plan.
The action could delay new construction for months--the plan is due in August--but officials said it is needed to prevent piecemeal development of larger lots vacated after the demolition of earthquake-damaged buildings. More than 30 buildings have been torn down in the 18-block business district since the Oct. 1 earthquake, which caused $60 million in damage in Whittier.
A moratorium would probably not affect property owners who have submitted plans to the city building department, but owners in the earlier stages of rebuilding could face delays, City Manager Thomas G. Mauk said.
The earthquake Citizen's Advisory Committee has discussed various means of restricting building, ranging from a moratorium to a requirement that property owners obtain a permit before building in Uptown.
Committee member Bob Henderson said uncontrolled development could result in buildings that would not conform to the design plan and could deprive the city of a chance to consolidate smaller parcels of land to attract major retailers and other large businesses. City officials also want to turn some of the vacant land into parking lots.
"I don't want to see large properties get chewed up in a big rush to get something on them," said Henderson, who owns an Uptown insurance company.
Mauk said building restrictions are common. "The (Redevelopment) Agency in any instance has control over development," he said. "It would be a very, very short period of time in the long-range development of the business district."
The design plan for Whittier's oldest commercial area, developed by the Arroyo Group of Pasadena, is scheduled to be finished in August.
The advisory panel will probably forward a recommendation on the moratorium issue to the City Council in the next couple of weeks. Councilman Gene H. Chandler predicted a divided vote on the matter.
"If we went to a moratorium, which in a sense (any of these actions) would be, I would think it would have to be watered down," Chandler said, to allow for buildings in the advanced planning stages to proceed.
"I can see advantages and disadvantages. . . . I haven't made up my mind about it."
Councilman Robert Woehrmann said he would probably oppose an outright moratorium but could support asking all Uptown property owners to obtain a conditional use permit before building. That permit would have to be passed by the Planning Commission and the City Council; normally, approval is considered only by the city building department.
The extra approvals would add about three months to the process, Woehrmann said.
Imposing a conditional use permit instead of a moratorium "sounds nicer, and it does give a procedural review and lets the projects go forward," he said.
Indeed, a major concern of the advisory panel is finding a way to avoid the public backlash, especially among Uptown merchants, that sometimes occurs when a moratorium is discussed.
"There's a lot of people Uptown who have spent a lot of money already on plans," said Lane Langford, a committee member and president of the Uptown Assn. "You're going to have a hornet's nest, I'm sure, if you stop those developments."
The committee is taking pains to present building restrictions in a positive light, avoiding the word "moratorium" and instead calling the idea an "interim ordinance" or "part of the planning process."
However, the City Council is not obligated to approve the committee's recommendation and has these additional choices:
Prohibiting all building in the area for at least 45 days. This action would have to be approved by four of the five council members.
Blocking development of key Uptown land parcels.
Approving a comprehensive development plan for the Uptown area. The city could acquire property through eminent domain if a property owner did not comply with the plan. The council could approve a development plan by majority vote.
Residents will have a chance to comment on post-earthquake redevelopment at a public forum scheduled for 6 p.m. June 8 in the council chambers.