749 17th Street is scheduled to be demolished. (photo by Byron Kennerly)

CITY HALL — A controversial senior group housing project in an upscale part of town cleared another hurdle on Tuesday when an appeal filed by neighbors was turned down.

The City Council unanimously denied a petition filed by a group of Montana Avenue area residents who argued that the Planning Commission acted in error in determining that the proposed structure was exempt from provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act because of aesthetic impacts, pointing out that a review was conducted for a previous iteration of the project.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor recused herself from the vote because she works as a historian and preservation planner for Kaplan Chen Kaplan, the project architect.

The commission adopted the CEQA exemption in November after it denied another appeal by the Montana Neighborhood Coalition and resident Ron Goldman over the Architectural Review Board’s approval of the project at 749 17th St.

City Hall said that two different exemptions apply to the project, including one that pertains to developments that are ministerial and where there is certainty that the proposed activity would not have a significant impact on the environment.

The commission adopted the CEQA exemption in November after it denied another appeal by the Montana Neighborhood Coalition and resident Ron Goldman over the Architectural Review Board’s approval of the project.

“This exemption makes a mockery out of the planning process,” Goldman said.

The appellants also pointed out that an environmental review was conducted for another project on the same site by the same applicant — Charles Rosenbleet.

The proposal has long been a contentious issue in the Montana neighborhood where residents have been outspoken in their concerns over the project, including the potential traffic impacts on the heavily traveled street and a sloped driveway, which they believe is too narrow considering the wide turn that cars would need to take when entering the garage. An earlier version of the driveway, which was 12-foot-wide and single lane, also drew complaints from residents who saw a possible safety risk in that cars would be forced to back out on to Montana Avenue if they were entering the garage when another automobile was exiting.

The architect returned with a revised plan that expanded the driveway to two lanes.

“The neighborhood is in no way against senior group housing,” Goldman said. “This is solely about site and building design.”

He added that there is no reason why public safety and parking issues could not have been resolved with a proper site plan.

“It’s basic architectural 101,” he said.

Located on the corner of 17th Street and Montana Avenue, the project is proposed to be a two-story senior group housing project with 17 residential units. The building will be designed in the Spanish/Mediterranean style. Proponents have argued that the site is a desirable location because of nearby amenities.

Architect David Kaplan said the project applicant has met with neighbors and city staff over the years to smooth out concerns with the development, pointing out that it meets height and setback requirements.

“We deliberately tried to make it fit into this neighborhood,” he said.

He added that the type of residents living in the development are less likely to drive during rush hour.

“We have practiced in the city a long time,” he said. “We believe in this process.”

The developer originally proposed an adult day care center with three condominiums and seven senior group housing units. That proposal was withdrawn after neighbors expressed concerns about traffic and safety impacts. An amended version was submitted earlier last year.

“This project has gone through extraordinary review in the community and at some point things have to come to an end and I know there was a lot of uproar in the community and I was getting a lot of emails about this project,” Councilmember Richard Bloom said. “I must assume many of the objections the community had are addressed in the subsequent redesign in the project.”


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