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Renewal Plan for Uptown Takes Another Step Forward

December 04, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — An ambitious redevelopment plan to rebuild the earthquake-torn Uptown Village business district has cleared another hurdle in a lengthy approval process.

Meanwhile, the city also continues to approve individual construction projects in the district, including a row of seven buildings in an area designated in the redevelopment plan for shopping and entertainment plazas featuring open spaces for walking.

The Uptown plan last week was submitted to the City Council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, by a citizens committee that worked with a consultant to develop the proposal. It is not expected to receive final approval for at least three more months.

City officials praised the latest draft of the plan, and said they were optimistic that individual projects already approved for construction can be integrated into the plan. "We will find a way to make it happen," said City Manager Thomas G. Mauk.

Plazas Could Be Jeopardized

But if the row of seven city-approved buildings goes up on two crucial blocks fronting Greenleaf Avenue, the proposed plazas described in the plan could be in jeopardy, the consultant has warned. The plaza concept calls for scattered structures amid large open spaces for walking. The seven buildings would be constructed next to each other.

In another section of the Uptown area, the city also has approved construction of a new White-Emerson mortuary two blocks from the Whittier College Performing Arts Center now under construction. Some city planners worry that the mortuary, which includes a crematorium, will discourage restaurant and retail development in the area.

Larry Morrison, a planner with the Arroyo Group consulting firm that was paid $90,000 to draw up the redevelopment plan, warned the City Council earlier this year that piecemeal construction could jeopardize revitalization of the district. But the council has stuck to its pledge, made within days of the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake, to support any Uptown merchant who wanted to rebuild.

Senior Planner Michael Burnham acknowledged the difficulty of building a coordinated block development when several property owners on the block have independent plans. But Burnham said the plan may interest a developer "to do the whole block by buying (all the property owners) out and starting over."

Burnham emphasized the flexibility of the plan. "It may not take exactly that form," he said, "but it gives us a starting point."

Plan a Concept

Mayor Victor A. Lopez also said that the plan is only a concept, but he suggested that developers wait until the final plan is approved before spending money on designing new buildings. The plan still must be approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council, which is not expected to make a final decision until March.

Lopez and other city officials were reluctant to address specific problem areas when the council, acting as the Redevelopment Agency, officially received the plan from the Earthquake Redevelopment Citizen's Advisory Committee during a meeting last week at the Whittier Hilton.

"A discussion of any particular project will not be helpful here," Mauk said.

The 120-page plan is a 30-year blueprint for redeveloping the Uptown by capitalizing on the historic flavor that distinguishes Whittier from other Southern California cities.

The plan recommends changing the Uptown's zoning to limit the commercial district largely to Greenleaf Avenue and Philadelphia Street. Movie and restaurant areas would be built in the district's central plaza, across the street from Whittier College and at Greenleaf Avenue and Hadley Street. Nine parking structures would be added to the area.

Historic Homes

In the residential areas around Uptown, the plan calls for establishing blocks of historic homes, and converting homes in the Central Park area into boutiques and restaurants. City officials disagreed about whether the area's zoning should permit businesses in the established neighborhoods around Central Park, but otherwise gave the plan high marks.

"It's really exciting to think we could have the kind of community shown here," said Councilman Thomas K. Sawyer.

Even Councilman Gene H. Chandler, a longtime critic of the plan, approved. "If there's any seat left on the bandwagon," he said, "I'd like to get on.".

After the slide presentation, Citizen's Advisory Committee members asked the City Council to take advantage of the chance to build a better Uptown business district.

Urges Support

Committee Chairman Lee Strong urged the council to support the plan as a means of attracting business to the Uptown. "You cannot interest people in investing in an area . . . if they can't see what is planned for the area," Strong said.

Committee member Robert Henderson asked the council to block development of land that is crucial to the plan, especially parcels earmarked for new parking structures.

"You've got to pick the key blocks and say, 'We will only allow the highest standard of development here,' " Henderson said.

The Citizens' Advisory Committee is one of several city commissions to have a hand in crafting the plan.

The Arroyo Group was hired by the city last March, and the citizens committee began meeting with the consultant the next month. Initial versions of the plan were presented to the committee over the summer, then were revised by the consultant after some city officials criticized the plan for being unrealistic and too expensive.

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