Three new alternatives have been added to the Montebello Hills development project, two of which would include a mixture of retail and housing space on the 488-acre property off the 60 Freeway.
Former Montebello City Administration and current city consultant Larry Kosmont at the Montebello city council meeting on Jan. 9 updated the city on its economic development projects, including the proposed Montebello Hills community, the Costco expansion and the Monterey Park Market Place.
Opponents to the project said they were caught off-guard by the presentation, which they said was disguised in the city council agenda.
“This is really just an invitation for everyone to dive into the dialogue that’s going to happen in Montebello,” Kosmont told the council.
Kosmont, whose real estate and economic development consulting firm Kosmont Companies is advising the city on several of its development projects, said three new alternatives would be added to the plans for the Montebello Hills project.
Originally, the project called for 1,200 single-family detached and attached homes to be built on 174-acres. The other 314-acres would be used as open space including a federally protected habitat reserve, a public park and accessible trails.
One of the new alternatives (6) does not include a retail site, but would change the ratio of single-detached homes and single-attached (condominium or townhouse style) homes to 49% and 52% respectively. Kosmont Companies says the ratio is much closer than in previous alternatives.
The two other alternatives, 7 and 8, would each include an 87,000-square foot neighborhood retail shopping center that would be anchored by a grocery and drug store.
Of those two alternatives, 7 would have the same number of homes as previous alternatives, but the size of each lot would be smaller. The ratio of detached to attached homes would also change to 51:49.
Alternative 8 would maintain the same lot size as previous alternatives but would reduce the number of homes in the proposed community to 1,072. The ratio would also change to 51.5% of those homes being single-family detached and 48.5% single-family attached homes.
Adding retail locations could potentially bring new sales tax driven revenue to the city, especially in light of the elimination of the redevelopment agency funding and constraints on revenue that the city faces, Kosmont said.
“[The alternatives] may not stick when the council makes its decision, but it’s fair to get that alternative evaluated along with the others,” he added.
The presentation drew reactions from both supporters and opponents to the project.
Montebello resident and realtor Felipe Acuna expressed concern that the project has yet to get underway and urged the council to take action. “I fail to see why this project has taken so long to flourish,” Acuna told council members.
A resident opposed to the development said living on top of oil wells is incompatible with life and that the city needs to preserve the open space for future generations.
Resident Jacqueline Carr said the project would make Montebello a better city for future generations.
Another resident proposed that the city use the property for a retail site instead of a residential area.
A majority of the speakers, many of them business owners and members of the local chamber of commerce, some of them residents, said the development would provide many benefits to the city, which has struggled to overcome large deficits in recent years.
Resident Linda Strong, chairperson for the Save The Montebello Hills Sierra Club Task Force, however, told EGP that had the community been made aware that the project was going to be discussed, opponents would have been out in greater force. She called Kosmont’s presentation little more than a “dog and pony show.”
“Unfortunately nobody from our group was notified … [but] it appears a whole lot of folk in the chamber of commerce were so notified,” said Strong during the public comment portion of the meeting. “Someone could have given us a call and alerted us.”
Mayor Pro Tem William M. Molinari also expressed concern that the item was listed on the council agenda as an “Economic Development Update.”
“It could have listed the projects so folks that had an interest in any of the three projects that were covered this evening could have been made aware,” said Molinari, adding it was obvious that some residents were notified but there was no general notification to the community.
“This project is far too important to the future of this community not to make sure that we be as transparent as possible,” Molinari said. “I don’t think it was fairly presented on this week’s agenda.”
According to the presentation, Kosmont will continue to update the city on the project including the environmental impact evaluations of the three new alternatives as required under the California Environmental Quality Act.
The next steps for the project will be to analyze the drafts of the alternatives and to circulate the amended draft environmental impact report for public comment. From there the firm hopes to prepare a final environmental impact report while completing a development agreement between the city and the project’s developer, Cook Hills Properties.
The firm hopes to send the project to the city council for consideration by the end of 2013.
Margaret Eiser, a Montebello resident and member of the task force told EGP that she hopes the community becomes involved and informed on the project.
“People need to know that it is not a done deal,” said Eiser.