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Whittier Puts Off Vote on Changes to Uptown District

May 25, 1989|JAMES M. GOMEZ | Times Staff Writer

WHITTIER — Despite generally favorable community comments, the City Council postponed until June its vote on an ambitious blueprint to revitalize the historic Uptown Whittier section, the area hardest hit by the October, 1987, Whittier Narrows earthquake.

At a public hearing Tuesday, residents and community and business leaders generally praised the Uptown Whittier Specific Plan, an inch-thick document that was prepared by the Pasadena-based consulting firm, the Arroyo Group.

The plan, which would change zoning in the 32-block Uptown Whittier section, was drafted to control development. It lays the groundwork for an upscale commercial and entertainment center and would protect historical buildings.

If passed, the plan would create a project area bounded by Penn Street on the south, Painter Avenue on the east, Hadley Street on the north and Pickering Avenue on the east.

'Fantastic Dream'

"It's a pleasure to echo the heartfelt feelings of others here," said John Smith, a spokesman for the Whittier Conservancy group. "This is an outstanding piece of work. . . . This is a fantastic dream."

But after the 1 1/2-hour forum, the council decided not to take any action on the plan until the panel reviews a variety of concerns voiced by some speakers. City officials had earlier said the council was scheduled to vote on the plan Tuesday night.

"Tonight we would be in no position to adopt the plan," Councilman Gene H. Chandler told the audience, which packed the council chambers to hear the final presentation by consultant Larry Morrison of the Arroyo Group.

Most concerns centered around minor details, such as allowing churches to post free-standing signs and adding traffic signals to key intersections within the project area.

But some concerns voiced by the 14 speakers were more serious.

A spokesman from the Whittier Chamber of Commerce, for instance, urged the council to reconsider prohibiting offices in an area set aside for "specialty retail," a proposed strip of upscale stores along Greenleaf Avenue.

Members of the First Baptist Church, which is in an Art Deco building across from Central Park, argued that categorizing the church building as historic would prevent them from making necessary earthquake repairs. Under the proposed plan, historical buildings would be protected from architectural alterations or demolition. But it would be less expensive to tear down parts of the church than to reinforce damaged walls, church spokesman Charles McCallister said.

One resident, who opposed the plan, complained that her neighborhood of mostly single-family homes would be ruined by a provision that would allow as many as 1,000 apartment units in the area.

"I don't like what's going on here," resident Peggy Matthews said. "This is really troubling to me."

Concentration of Housing

The plan would concentrate housing development in a six-block area--including Matthews' neighborhood--bounded by Penn Street on the south, Pickering Avenue on the west, Philadelphia Street on the north and Comstock Avenue on the east.

Some members of the audience said that they were not surprised that the council delayed its decision to consider any new evidence brought up at the hearing, the last of a series of community forums on redesign of the historical district.

"I expected (the delay)," said Lane Langford, an Uptown bookstore owner who served on the seven-member Citizen's Advisory Committee that helped the consulting firm prepare the $90,000 document.

"I would have been surprised if they passed the plan," Langford added. "They need to respond to statements made by a lot of citizens. They will mull it all over and make their decision the next time."

Parts of Uptown Whittier, the oldest section of the city, were devastated by the earthquake. Seventeen buildings were knocked down because of earthquake damage, and many property owners have been impatiently waiting ever since for passage of a unified revitalization plan.

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