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Whittier Rejects Plan for $26-Million Development


WHITTIER — Architects for Urbatech Corp. are scrambling to revise their design of a controversial $26-million development after the City Council rejected a site plan already approved by the city's design-review board.

Council members, acting in their dual role as the city's redevelopment agency, voted 3 to 2 to send Urbatech back to the drawing board for the 16-acre triangle of land bordered by Whittier Boulevard and Hadley and Philadelphia streets.

The decision was unexpected because Mayor Thomas Sawyer joined council members Helen Rahder and Bob Henderson in voting against the site plan. In the past, Sawyer has most often belonged to a pro-development majority voting bloc that includes members Robert Woehrmann and Myron Claxton.

At the meeting of the agency last week, Rahder and Henderson raised a series of questions about the development, which would include a large market, drugstore, restaurants and some 20 other smaller stores. Henderson worried that a proposed retaining wall behind the shopping center would become a target for graffiti and create an unpleasant facade for people walking or driving west down Philadelphia Street. Rahder noted the design departed substantially from an earlier artist's conception.

"There's no room for error here," Rahder said.

Woehrmann said the council should not assume the role of architects, and that members should abide by the judgment of the city's design-review board, which had already approved the site plan pending landscaping modifications.

The city has already relocated 13 businesses and 11 residences to clear the land. Still to be resolved is the issue of what will happen to a historic, century-old train depot located on the property. In all, the city will be investing at least $7 million in the project.

Urbatech, which has taken out a $12.8-million loan for the project, has until the end of August to submit revised plans.

"It creates a profound problem," Urbatech president John MacLaurin said without elaborating. In arguing his case before the council, he said, "You can't micro-manage a project of this size. We are struggling diligently to give the city of Whittier something you should be proud of."

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