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Valley Blvd. Is a Challenge for Planners in Alhambra

April 02, 1989|ELIZABETH LU | Times Staff Writer

ALHAMBRA — Valley Boulevard, which had existed for decades in the shadow of Main Street, is coming of age.

The boulevard has always been a busy commercial area but was never the heart of the city. Main Street, where the major department stores were located, was the place to be for shopping and fun.

Some 20 years ago, the Junior Chamber of Commerce even hosted a "Hi Neighbor" parade on the boulevard featuring as the grand marshal Cheryl Tiegs, an Alhambra High School graduate turned cover girl. Organizers had hoped the parade would draw more attention and business to Valley Boulevard.

"It didn't help any," said Dick Nichols, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

But in the early 1980s, business began booming on Valley as Asian immigrants and other entrepreneurs established businesses ranging from restaurants to supermarkets to furniture stores.

$1 Million in Sales Taxes

The goods and services attract shoppers from as far away as Anaheim and Sun Valley, raking in nearly $1 million in sales taxes a year for the city and turning Valley Boulevard between New Avenue and the Long Beach Freeway into a regional shopping area.

Development has been taking place so rapidly--since 1980, more than 280,000 square feet of new development has occurred on Valley--that the City Council became alarmed about the effect of uncontrolled growth.

So city planners are preparing a plan that will examine issues such as the environmental and traffic impacts of new developments, minimum lot sizes and the development of commercial "nodes," described as a more concentrated collection of businesses at major intersections on Valley, such as Atlantic Boulevard and Fremont and Garfield avenues.

"We don't want these to be arbitrary rules and regulations," said Mark Persico, an associate city planner. "We want to control development on Valley Boulevard. We don't want to stop it."

In addition to concerns such as traffic congestion and building density, some council members are receiving complaints from residents about the boulevard's appearance.

"Every time you look, you see a junk store going up," said Councilwoman Barbara Messina, who lives two blocks north of Valley. She cited as an example one tiny store crammed with everything from toys to pots and pans. Business signs have also become a problem, she said.

"It's not just the Asian signs," Messina said. Excessive and unprofessional-looking signs have made some businesses look tacky, she said. Improving the aesthetics of the boulevard was one reason why the council last fall approved plans to install medians between Ethel and Garfield avenues, she said.

Historically, the city has paid more attention to Main Street, said City Manager Kevin Murphy. "That's one reason why you have a low-density hodgepodge look (on Valley) now."

To get more control over future developments on Valley, the council has directed staff members to draft a specific plan--the first of its kind in the city--which it hopes will help shape development along the boulevard.

A specific plan details what percentage of an area should be devoted to certain uses and what type of projects--hotels, restaurants, apartments--the city wants developed.

City planners have been meeting with a Valley Boulevard steering committee to work out details of the plan, which is scheduled to be presented to the public in late October.

As part of the planning process, the council on Feb. 27 extended a moratorium halting new construction on Valley. The freeze will be in effect for another 10 months, or until the specific plan is completed.

Restrictions on Permits

During the moratorium, the city will only issue construction permits for additions to existing buildings if the addition is less than 20% of the building, or 4,000 square feet, whichever is less.

The city is also denying requests for land use changes that increase the demand for parking.

Exemptions may be granted to developers whose projects have been approved by the Planning Commission, said associate planner Persico. Four to five pending projects fall into that category, he said.

The effort to draft a specific plan is generally welcomed by the business community, which has long hungered for detailed development guidelines.

"The reaction has been favorable," Nichols said. "Even though none of us likes the moratorium, it (specific plan) is needed."

Some business owners do have reservations, though.

"I'm in favor of the city's plan, but not rigid control" said Fred Fong, owner of Fong Realty on Valley. "I don't know if the city has the right to control what type of business they (entrepreneurs) can get into."

Valley Boulevard's three-mile stretch through Alhambra is part of a major thoroughfare cutting across the southern portion of the San Gabriel Valley. Linking communities from Pomona to Alhambra, the boulevard--which predates both the Pomona and San Bernardino freeways--ends just south of Lincoln Heights in Los Angeles.

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