MONTEBELLO — After more than 2 1/2 years of negotiations, the Montebello Community Redevelopment Agency approved two agreements Tuesday that clear the way for building a commercial center that was envisioned by city leaders almost 20 years ago.
Agency members, who also sit on the City Council, voted 3 to 2 to allow Montebello Commercial Properties to build a 20-acre retail center on the once-oil-rich terrain of Montebello Hills. The agency also signed an agreement to buy 10 acres on the same parcel from Chevron U.S.A. Inc. to build an auto center.
With the approval, Montebello residents are virtually assured that by the end of next year they will get something for which they have long been clamoring: a theater, a nice restaurant and more places to shop.
"We're really happy," City Councilman Art Payan said. "We got everything signed, and we are on our way. It's exciting to think that in little more than a year we will have a theater and another major shopping center."
Economic development director Linda Payan said the city also expects to reap about $1.1 million a year in sales and property taxes from both the commercial center and the auto park. About 900 new jobs will be created, she said.
The 30-acre development project is immediately southwest of Montebello Town Center, a mall that opened about five years ago.
Linda Payan said the developer's preliminary plans call for a retail center of three fast-food outlets, one "upscale" restaurant, a movie theater with eight to 10 screens, a Sears shopping center and a toy store.
The city is trying to woo at least two car dealers to the adjoining 10-acre parcel. Art Payan said an agreement with a developer may be signed within 90 days to bring in dealers.
According to the agreement, the city redevelopment agency will pay about $2 million to grade the 30 acres, plus about $1.5 million for street signals, roads and other public improvements.
Agency members Ed Pizzorno and Bill Molinari voted against the agreements, saying they disapprove of the developer's plan to build the fast-food outlets.
"Residents have been talking about a 'restaurant row' idea, where there is a row of steak and seafood houses," Pizzorno said. "We're getting three drive-through hamburger stands. I just think people can go to McDonald's anywhere."
Pizzorno said he does not think the city is getting a fair return on its investment because the developer plans to build the fast-food outlets on land that could have been used to bring in more car dealers.
"I just felt if we were going to subsidize the rich, we better get an awful lot," Pizzorno said. "I don't feel we got enough back."
Though some combination of auto park and commercial center was planned for Montebello Hills in 1973, it has taken a great deal of work in the last few years to get the project going, Planning Director Paul Deibel said.
The entire site was part of the Montebello Oil Field owned by Chevron U.S.A. In 1975, the city designated the site and the surrounding 450 acres of oil field as part of its redevelopment area. Little else was done until the mid-1980s, when city officials began corresponding with state and local officials about their plans to develop the area.
Because the commercial center will be built on an old oil field and is next to a Monterey Park landfill that once accepted hazardous liquid waste, Deibel said, the environmental impact report led to one of the longest delays in the project.
According to the report, there are several problems that could affect the commercial center and its surrounding area. Most can be solved, the report stated, but air quality will be adversely affected because of the increased traffic. Also, the proximity of the commercial center to the landfill means that bad odors may occasionally waft over the center.
Despite the two concerns listed in the report, the City Council passed a resolution in September stating that because of increased revenues and jobs, it is best for the city to go ahead with the project.
Last fall, after 2 1/2 years of talks, the redevelopment agency signed a preliminary agreement with Montebello Commercial Properties Inc., a joint venture of Chevron Land & Development and the Alexander Haagen Co., to develop a 15-acre retail center.
The redevelopment agency also offered $6.5 million to Chevron U.S.A. for 15 more acres on the same parcel of land and signed an agreement with a local Chevrolet dealer to build the auto park.
On Tuesday, the redevelopment agency revised the agreements because Montebello Commercial Properties said it wants to bring in a Sears store and needs more land, and the Chevrolet dealer said he could not find enough dealerships for an auto center.
The agency agreed to lop off five acres from the auto park and give it to the commercial center. The price of the land that the redevelopment agency will buy from Chevron U.S.A. for the auto center dropped to $4.4 million.
MORE SHOPPING: After years in the planning, a new shopping center and theater will be built in the Montebello Hills. Some city leaders hail the project, but others say it is not enough.