Despite wide enthusiasm for drastically altered architectural plans for a proposed new Sport Chalet development in La Canada Flintridge, critics said this week that they still are not convinced that the major expansion project is suited to their quiet, rural community.
Sport Chalet officials in June dismissed their previous architect and hired a new firm after several hundred residents characterized the original plans as nothing more than a low-quality, strip-commercial mall.
Plans unveiled last week by the Glendale architectural firm of Feola Deenihan Archuleta provide for a $12-million, village-like plaza with restaurants, a movie theater and upscale shops to complement a new store and headquarters for the popular sporting goods chain on its founding site in the center of town at Foothill Boulevard and Angeles Crest Highway.
City Councilman Ed Phelps, a longtime critic of the proposed development, called the new architectural plans "a 180-degree flip" from the original proposal, which provided for a row of stores behind a large asphalt parking lot.
But Phelps said he still is concerned that the size of the project--which has grown since first proposed five years ago to a 164,000 square-foot development with 900 parking spaces on an 11.7-acre site--is too ambitious for the sleepy foothill town. He said he wants commercial development in the city of 20,800 "to stay small."
Phelps is part of a four-member committee named by the council to serve as an intermediary between the developer and the community. Three of the members met in an informal session Tuesday night to critique the plans by architect Millard Archuleta.
The plans will be formally presented Sept. 18 at a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission. City officials said they anticipate an overflow crowd at the presentation, to be held at 7 p.m. at Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive.
Norbert and Irene Olberz, a German couple who founded Sport Chalet in La Canada Flintridge 30 years ago, have long planned to turn their holdings of retail stores, commercial shops and about 25 adjoining houses into a shopping center. The project would also provide office headquarters for their successful sporting goods operation, which has eight outlets and six more under development.
City officials said the sporting goods store is an important source of sales tax revenue in the predominantly residential community, made up mostly of semi-rural estates. Incorporated in 1976, the city has no property tax and industry is prohibited. Taxes are generated mostly from the aging commercial strip along Foothill Boulevard, where stores are slowly dying because of a lack of adequate parking.
In turn, urban shopping centers are springing up along the strip, resulting in pockets of commercialism that many residents say they detest. Critics charge that the ambitious scale of the Sport Chalet project will cement the trend toward urban commercialization of the boulevard.
However, William Campbell, city planner, has long argued that commercial development in La Canada Flintridge is inevitable. He has even proposed the locally unpopular idea that a redevelopment zone be created to control and guide development.
'Very Marketable Area'
"La Canada Flintridge is a very marketable area," Campbell said in an interview this week. "There are two freeways running through town. The urban fabric is too interrelated and too interconnected to ignore."
Phelps, who won a seat on the council in an upset election two years ago after campaigning on a no-growth platform, is not so sure. He said Tuesday that the latest architectural design for the Sport Chalet project "is nice, but I need to know how it fits in with the residential community."
Supporters, however, argue that the proposal may be the community's one chance to map a future of upscale development.
Archuleta called the existing sporting goods store "one of the ugliest buildings in town" and the conglomeration of shops that adjoin it "almost semi-blighted."
"We have an opportunity right now with a developer who is willing to do something," Archuleta told a group of about 15 residents at Tuesday's meeting. "It's time we stopped beating up on him."