MONROVIA — Alma Nelson started worrying when a condominium development near her home was approved in 1986.
Her concern increased last August when the Planning Commission approved a three-unit apartment building on Madeline Drive where she lives.
Brian Bauer, who lives in the same neighborhood, became upset last year over plans to build a three-unit apartment complex on his street.
Even though the neighborhood was downzoned in February, 1987, residents weren't satisfied.
"We could see the handwriting on the wall, we didn't want it (development) to keep progressing," said Nelson, 36, a Monrovia resident since 1975.
Residents Joined Forces
As awareness of proposed developments spread, neighbors in the northeast section of the city joined forces.
They were able to persuade the City Council to reject the proposed apartment complex on Mountain View Avenue where Bauer lives.
And on June 15, after months of discussion among themselves and with city staff, they came another step closer to their goal of preserving the neighborhood's single-family character.
The Planning Commission agreed to recommend that the council downzone the neighborhood from RM 3,000, which allows one house per 3,000 square feet of lot area, to R-L, which would limit construction to one unit regardless of the lot size.
Bauer and Nelson live within an L-shaped area that is bordered by the eastern city boundary and Shamrock, Greystone, Mountain View, Mountain and Ocean View avenues.
According to Planning Director Robert Kastenbaum, 80% of the 95 lots in the area are under 7,000 square feet, and only 17 have more than one unit on them.
Bauer, who delivers mail in the neighborhood, drafted a petition to limit development. "We had talked among ourselves that we'd like to go R-L but never considered in our wildest dreams that the city would go along with it," he said.
But Kastenbaum said the city "has been taking the initiative all along" to downzone appropriate sections of the city. Temporary building moratoriums were established last year in eight other areas, some of which have already been downzoned.
"We were certainly on target, the question was whether we went far enough. . . . It was a matter of seeing exactly what the community wanted," he said.
Humorously named the Mad Mountain Slow Growth Committee, the homeowners group of about 65 is not against growth, said Nelson's husband Jonne, 38. But the group wants "responsible growth," he added.
Between meetings at homes and at City Hall, members agree the downzoning effort has been an education in itself.
"I thought there would be a book on guidelines" for rezoning, Bauer said. There wasn't. "I had no insight on how to fight developers. . . . I was on my own.
"The first time you go up and speak (before the City Council) with the lights and the cameras can be kind of hairy," Bauer recalled, laughing. "We're more politically aware now."
He presented the petition he drew up to the City Council in October.
"My wife and I just sat down and said, 'This is the goal we want to accomplish--a cap of two units (per lot).' We thought that was reasonable."
The Planning Commission in January rejected the 64-signature petition. The proposed building limit was not consistent with the city zoning policy of setting the number of units allowed by the size of the lot, Kastenbaum said.
Bauer thought the fight was over. "I was crushed, didn't want to talk to anybody." But the defeat helped generate more support.
"People would stop me and actually say, 'You were right.' I'd have people give me $5 here, there," said Bauer. He has printed a newsletter updating the community on the situation and distributed more than 120 postcards urging residents to show up at City Hall meetings.
On appeal, the council in February agreed with the Planning Commission's recommendation to deny the petition. But the council later approved a building moratorium in the area while city officials consider concerns raised by the residents.
"We raised enough ruckus that the city was willing to meet with the neighbors," Bauer said.
As a result of meetings with residents, the Planning Commission decided on June 15 to recommend that the council further downzone the area.
Mark Schluter, a member of the homeowners group, said that residents want a neighborhood with single-family homes and are not concerned with "how many units you can smash into a property for the income."
Schluter, 32, has a lot large enough for another housing unit under current zoning. But "quality of life is more important," he said.
If the council agrees with the Planning Commission's recommendation after a public hearing, the moratorium would be lifted, Kastenbaum said. No date has been set for the public hearing.
Whatever the outcome, "everybody takes more pride in the neighborhood," Alma Nelson said. More residents recognize each other in the supermarkets and on the streets, she said. They intend to form a Neighborhood Watch as well as discuss earthquake preparedness and traffic safety plans.
"We're communicating," Jonne Nelson said. And, said Bauer, "we found a lot of us were on the same wave length."