Theo – After 40 Years, Pasadena Heritage Continues to Watchdog Aggressive Development, Mansionization, and More

Pasadena Now

January 24, 2018

After 40 years working to preserve historic structures and the culture of the community, Pasadena Heritage hosts its Annual Meeting tonight to look back on the organization’s accomplishments over the years and discuss challenges the group faces in the new year.

Pasadena Heritage Executive Director Sue Mossman says a continued spike in development, neighborhood mansionization, fallout from the now-dead 710 freeway tunnel project are top issues the organization will monitor moving forward.

“New development continues at an aggressive pace,” said Mossman. “It seems that every other day, there’s a project that we need to look at, review and see if we’re concerned about. It’s kind of a constant challenge and people keep telling me these things are cyclical, but I don’t see any slacking in the pace of new development,” said Mossman.

In the wake of this trend of development throughout the city last year, Pasadena Heritage Pasadena Heritage launched its new community outreach initiative called “Participate Pasadena” last September aimed at engaging residents and directly soliciting their input about Pasadena’s built environment.

“Our goal to help keep the community better informed about what is happening what’s on the horizon in terms of development community planning and design issues, but then on the flip side, engage more people in these processes at earlier stages and in more meaningful ways so that everything doesn’t feel like a surprise at the last minute, and people have avenues to engage making their involvement more constructive,” said Mossman.

The preservation group also launched a city-wide survey as part of the initiative.

“That’s moving more slowly than I wish just because of the many demands on our resources, but we are eager to hold another community meeting soon,” said Mossman. “We’re just in the process of putting that together and choosing the hottest topics to explore at our next meeting,” added Mossman.

In 2013, a private developer, KHP Capital Partners, proposed the lease and construction of a 185-room Kimpton boutique hotel on a site across from City Hall in exchange for the restoration of the derelict YWCA building.

Three years later, however, KHP’s terms changed due to a significant increase in the project cost. In the face of mounting criticism by neighborhood groups, the City Council then decided it was going to be too costly and nixed the proposal.

Following the plan’s collapse, the Pasadena City Council voted to organize the Civic Center Task Force, which is made up of community-based members who will generate recommendations for the future development of the Civic Center.

Pasadena Heritage held a workshop last Saturday with Task Force members and members of the public to brainstorm about the development parameters for a variety of future projects and also alternative uses for the YWCA building.

“The whole idea was to take a step back, take a deep breath, look at this again and come up with some revised planning boundaries, but also new ideas if there were any or old ideas that deserve revisiting and see what should and could happen there. So that is well underway,” said Mossman.

The group takes inspiration from a time when some of Pasadena’s original planners actively sought the community’s input and put together many of the different features that now make up the Civic Center.

“We’ve been through this many times in the Civic Center, not so specifically driven by the old YWCA, but just how do we improve the Civic Center, what should happen here, what could happen here? And we come to a consensus and there is a plan and then too often in the past, nothing actually happens,” Mossman explains.

The tedious process is something Mossman says is what keeps Pasadena Heritage busy, day in and day out.

“Every time you start over, there are new voices and old voices and new players and economic realities change and so it’s kind of reinventing the wheel. It can be frustrating when you’ve been through this so many times before, but it’s the way communities work. So you just jump in and do it again,” said Mossman.

However, newfound attention on the YWCA building may be a good sign for the group’s conservation concerns.

“The city’s pretty motivated to see something happen in that building since they now own it and they are paying for it. Maybe there is sufficient motivation behind this new effort to actually realize a project … that comes out of this in some more accelerated way,” said Mossman.

The Task Force is currently gathering data, convening public meetings, and will develop recommendations with support from the Planning Department staff, reportedly within the first half of 2018.

The Planning staff will then forward the Task Force recommendations to City Council, for approval.

Construction is now underway on a new 105-unit multifamily building at 289 North El Molino Avenue in Pasadena — the site of another project Pasadena Heritage was sure to get involved with.

Dubbed as The Theo, the building is close to the Theodore Parker Lukens House, according to a report on the website multi-housing news.

The Lukens House is a Victorian style home that’s considered one of Pasadena’s oldest, A look at the National Register of Historic Places reveals that the house was included in March 1984.

According to an earlier report, architectural design and planning firm KTGY is currently working with developer Summerhill Apartment Communities, Pasadena Heritage and the City of Pasadena’s Design Commission to make sure the six-story apartment building reflects its historic surroundings which is adjacent to a small park and a 120-year-old cedar tree.

“I think we came to a certainly a better place than where we started. It would be a dramatic change for that block and quite an imposing new neighbor for the Lukens House, but once again, it was a project that was permitted under zoning rules,” Mossman relates. “Trying to get enough improvements to be more respectful of the Lukens House was the goal and I think we did achieve that. When it’s finished, it’s going to look big and new and different, but that is it would have without our involvement.,”

The building will be made up of 53 percent of the units as one-bedroom residential apartments, and 47 percent two-bedroom residences, with subterranean parking and much of the roof area set aside for amenity spaces.

Mansionization in Pasadena neighborhoods has been occurring for many years and seems to be resurfacing as a hot topic in the post-recession economy, according to Mossman.

According to the City Planning Department officials, “mansionization” technically refers to a situation where a proposed house, either new or rehabilitated, or an addition, is out of scale and/or out of character with surrounding houses, but at the same time complies with the development regulations that currently apply to the project.

“I think the good news is that the city heard that message loud and clear. It’s a continuing concern,” explained Mossman, who says Pasadena Heritage receives calls weekly from residents concerned about remodels in their neighborhood.

In recent years many Southland communities have been trying to find a balance between private property development and community concerns about view protection, privacy, impacts of noise and lighting, and overall aesthetics in their neighborhoods.

At the direction of City Council, and in response to concerns for the potential of “mansionization” in Pasadena, City staff is undertaking a comprehensive effort to revise the Zoning Code development standards governing single-family residences, according to the City’s website.

“I’m encouraged that the city took the matter seriously, they’ve devoted some real time and talent to the question and now we’re eager to see where they’re coming out with and what we can do to help move some good solutions forward,” said Mossman.

One issue in particular that has been an area of focus for Pasadena Heritage is the issue of the Caltrans 710 Freeway project.

“And then there are all the continuing projects like the 710 Freeway issues and the specific plans that will be starting this year,” said Mossman about the decades-long debate about the 710 freeway tunnel project that was killed by Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board last May.

The motion that was passed last May which quashed the tunnel carried with it a preference by the Metro Board of Directors to start planning the Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management (TSM/TDM) alternative as the preferred alternative.

That plan calls for “mobility improvement projects” such as street widening, better traffic signal coordination and other engineered improvements to local road networks in the gap between the 710 Freeway and Interstate 210 in Pasadena.

“We always love Pasadena’s guiding plans to have strong preservation components so we are planning to be heavily engaged in that process,” said Mossman.

Pasadena Heritage is inviting all Pasadenans the 2018 Annual Meeting at the historic Civic Auditorium’s Gold Room, located at 300 E. Green Street.

The program will include the 2017 40th Anniversary Year in review and the election of new members to the Board of Directors.

The event is free for Pasadena Heritage members and $10 for non-members.

To register, go to https://tinyurl.

For more information about Pasadena Heritage, go to