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Senior Citizen Housing Decision Postponed : Development: The Planning Commission will wait at least two years before shaping a policy. It is likely to favor garden-style townhouses instead of high-density housing.

July 08, 1993|DIANA S. KIM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE — The city's Planning Commission has agreed to postpone any decision on building housing for the elderly until at least 1995, but decided that it probably will favor garden-style townhouses rather than high-density apartments to meet the housing needs of its aging population.

In keeping with a staff report issued before last Thursday's meeting, and the protests of dozens of city residents that high-density housing would not mesh with La Canada's character, the commission decided against building 30-units-per-acre senior citizen housing on Verdugo Boulevard.

That site was identified by a citizens advisory committee in March as most suitable for the project, but the commission decided instead that the site was best suited for single-family housing and some commercial use.

Any development in the area will be in accordance with a new "special district" designation as an entry point to the city and a gateway to Descanso Gardens, the commission decided in crafting an updated housing policy for the city.

Meanwhile, the commission decided to shape a policy to address senior citizen housing by the end of 1995. The study would project the needs for the city, where 23.3% of households are headed by people 65 and older.

"It hurts to take two steps back and say we can't make this decision now. This should have been planned 10 years ago so it's in the books now," said Commissioner Laura Olhasso, 41, who calls herself an advocate for senior citizens.

"(But) I don't see an alternative. I absolutely think the issue is urgent, but we can't make decisions in a vacuum," Olhasso said. The city needs to study the issue to identify the best location and the type of housing best suited for the city's affluent senior citizens, she said. The city's median household income is $78,965.

Commissioner Warren Gannon, 56, said he was comfortable with the decision to postpone. "These things are market driven. . . . We can only (serve to) guide. We cannot develop an edict."

Meanwhile, housing for the elderly will be met through accessory housing--guest houses or maid's quarters--City Planner Marsha Harris said. As in San Marino and Bradbury in the San Gabriel Valley, these quarters are also designated as affordable housing to meet the state's quotas for such housing.

State officials have said they have no problem with such a plan, provided the accessory living quarters have a separate kitchen, bathroom and entrance.

However, the Planning Commission also decided to require developers to "blend in" a few affordable units in future housing developments; this would keep the building from obtrusively becoming "a project."

The Planning Commission's recent decisions were good news to residents such as Cindy Wilcox, 36, who came to a public hearing last month to protest earlier tentative plans for senior citizen and high-density housing. Many feared that the move would hurt housing prices in the city.

"The overall conclusion by the Planning Commission was excellent," said Wilcox, a key organizer against the project. After all is said and done, she said, La Canada Flintridge might not need to build a housing complex for the elderly.

"We don't really know what the seniors are looking for or what they need. There are many (existing senior citizen housing) vacancies right in the area within convenient driving distance, like Pasadena and Montrose," Wilcox said.

But Patricia Harker, 54, a member of the citizens advisory committee that had identified a potential location for senior citizen housing, said the city cannot be blind to demographic trends.

"I don't see what the advantage of waiting two years is. I don't see the wisdom in it," she said. "Something isn't going to open up--it's going to tighten up. There is a possibility of losing land that is potentially available now."

The City Council will review the Planning Commission's completed housing policy by October.

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