WHITTIER — Advocates and opponents of a plan to limit apartment construction expressed the same goal this week at a three-hour public hearing--preserving their investments.
Those who favor the plan testified that they wanted to preserve their investment in a single-family home and keep Whittier's charming residential neighborhoods from being overrun by apartments.
"What about those of us who have taken a good deal of money to invest in single-family homes?" asked homeowner Leonard Smith. "Our property values are going to go down if we are surrounded by two, four, six apartments."
Those who want to retain existing higher-density zoning said the plan threatened financial investments made on the basis of the zoning, which has been in place since 1955.
Change in Capacity
For Betty Perlman, who planned on building an apartment in back of her house for retirement income, the proposed zoning would change the capacity of her lot from two living units to one.
"People on fixed incomes have a hard enough row to hoe without having their plans for the future blown," she said.
The hearing before the Planning Commission drew more than 150 people. The 77 people who testified split about 2 to 1 in favor of limiting growth, the issue that has galvanized the city since the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake.
The hearing was called to receive testimony on a proposal from a city-hired consultant to limit the number of apartments to be built in Whittier's oldest neighborhoods north of the Uptown business district. The study by consultant Laura Hudson of Michael Brandman Associates said Whittier's aging sewer and water systems and narrow streets cannot support the number of apartments permitted under current zoning.
Hudson has recommended that the city change the zoning, which limits how many apartments can be built on a lot, to conform with the city's General Plan, the overall blueprint for development. The General Plan calls for lower density than the zoning laws in most areas north of Hadley Street.
The crowd was the largest since development of the Puente Hills was debated about six years ago, said Planning Director Elvin Porter. The Planning Commission listened to nearly three hours of testimony Monday night and is scheduled to vote on the proposal Feb. 6. Any zoning change must also be approved by the City Council.
Several residents said they feared that a proliferation of apartments would turn the Uptown district, already the city's highest crime area, into a slum. Joe Holliday, who bought his Uptown area home several years ago because of its quiet neighborhood, complained that nearby apartment residents have started parking in front of his house.
"Recently, an ill wind has been blowing," he said. "The traffic problem is very severe."
There were also emotional appeals from residents who said Whittier's charming older neighborhoods--the city's most distinctive trait--are being threatened by city officials who give in to the demands of developers.
"The community is what we're fighting for, not the individual," said Jeanette McKenna. "We're fighting what short-term decisions mean to the long-term value of our community."
Residents who had purchased their lots planning to convert houses to apartments complained they are being blamed for the sins of absentee landlords.
Yvonne Sanchez said her mother's home on Painter Avenue was demolished after sustaining severe damage in the earthquake, and plans for replacing the home with apartments have been stalled for nearly a year while city officials debated zoning issues.
"Not everyone that comes before you is a big, bad investor," she said.