The South Pasadena Planning Commission on Wednesday approved the city’s single largest new development in 20 years, an upscale, 86-unit senior housing apartment complex on lots adjacent to the modernist red brick office building at 625 Fair Oaks Ave. But with construction lending frozen, it is uncertain when construction will commence.
The 2.6-acre Spanish Colonial Revival project, which features 13 affordable housing units spread throughout the complex, was ushered through the planning process by architectural consultant and former South Pasadena Mayor Odom Stamps on behalf of Los Angeles-based developer Greenbridge Investment Partners.
The complex of four multi-story buildings connected by walkways and courtyards won unanimous approval from four of the five commissioners attending the body’s technically challenged, first-ever virtual meeting. It features a large set of amenities, including three levels of dining, a screening room and lecture hall, a hairdresser, barber, daily maid service, drying cleaning, valet, concierge and limousine service. Rooftop amenities will include dining, a spa and pool.
Greenbridge principal Sean Hashem told the South Pasadenan News the cost of the project “could be anywhere above $30 million” and has estimated it will pay development fees of over $1 million dollars to the city. “We have already had amazing interest from people with their parents or people approaching us saying, ‘save a spot for me.’ I do believe there is good chance we could lease things up quickly.”
It’s been two years since Greenbridge acquired 625 Fair Oaks and 20 months since it filed with the Planning Department, which twice deemed the application incomplete. Hashem said he’d hoped the process would have gone quicker but believes the city “did its best. We were very pleased with [City Manager] Stephanie DeWolfe. She got the message and understood it.”
Hashem said Greenbridge likes South Pasadena. “We’ll be looking at other properties to purchase and would like to get courted.” He said Greenbridge is prepared to spend up to $100 million on development opportunities in town and is still interested in trying to work out a deal with the School District to lease office space at 625 Fair Oaks, even though an earlier deal to trade the building for a development opportunity at the District’s headquarters did not come to fruition.
Approval came just over two months after the Commission approved another large project downtown, the 36-unit Mission Bell condominium.
Greenbridge will now get to work on detailed design drawings to be submitted for a plan check by the city’s Building and Safety Department, after which it can begin pulling permits.
“Congratulations to the applicant,” Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud, the City Council’s liaison to the Planning Commission, said after the vote. “It’s a beautiful project. We have an aging, booming population and I think the developers did their homework in choosing South Pasadena as the site for it. We look forward to their commencing construction.”
But when that will occur is unclear. The city was prepared to guarantee Greenridge’s entitlement rights for 12 months, but last week staff recommended extending them to 24 months, “due to the economic uncertainty created by the COVID-19 global health crisis.”
During the meeting, Mahmud asked Planning and Community Development Director Joanne Hankamer if she thought Greenbridge would need the extra time.
The applicant asked for it, Hankamer said. “And we felt it was reasonable. But we also expect that their intention is to build the project.”
“It’s a post-COVID world,” Hashem told the South Pasadenan. “We needed to make sure. A lot of lending is frozen.” Greenbridge didn’t want to be in the position of having to ask for another extension he said, noting the two-year entitlement also includes an option for an additional year.
The next steps are “getting construction drawings, bidding it out and getting a construction loan. That is a process that will take some time.”
The city sent it a letter proposing a resolution under which the project would receive “density bonus” incentives in exchange for including affordable housing, in what later became the city’s first attempt to process such an application. City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said the project passed the statutory test for whether the concessions made by the city were less costly than those of creating the affordable units.
The commission also approved the project’s affordable housing review under which it received a building height exemption and waivers of a conditional use permit, an open space provision and a frontage setback along Mound St. The Design Review Board approved the square footage amounts for residential and common area space while the Natural Resource Commission okayed removal of 17 protected trees in exchange for planning 73 new ones.
The project faced virtually no opposition, something Hashem said he’d been worried about. “South Pasadena wasn’t built on development and hasn’t approved a lot over the years,” he said. “We were nervous at first because we thought there would be more antidevelopment, but I think our timing was good. We went out of our way to do something special because we knew it would help in getting the attention of everyone.” He said the building’s design style and amenities compare favorably with anything in Beverly Hills.