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UPDATED: Residents Concerned About Proposed Huntington Renovations

Residents raised various issues at a meeting Monday night about the possible effects of a proposed building project at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

San Marino and Pasadena residents spoke about possible traffic, noise, parking issues and other aspects Monday night at a meeting about a proposed construction project at the that could take up to two years.

At the open community meeting, held at , PCR Services Corporation Director of Environmental Planning & Documentation Jay Ziff informed the approximately two dozen attendees of proposed Huntington plans and possible effects, as laid out in an initial study found here and provided a forum for community feedback to be considered when the more detailed Environmental Impact Report is conducted by PCR, a contractor hired by the city to make an impartial evaluation.

“We feel like the Huntington is as much about what we provide to the community and we want the feedback and a very deep understanding about what and who this is for—San Marino school children,” Susan Turner-Lowe, Vice President for Communications at the Huntington, told Patch before the meeting. “A third of San Marino households are members. This is a way of engaging with the community as much as we always have because of the degree to which the Huntington has been a part of the community and worked hand in glove with the community for decades.”

The proposed construction and renovation for the Huntington Education and Visitor Center Project would increase the above ground floor area by about 43,000 square feet, according to San Marino Senior Planner Aldo Cervantes, and take about 18 months to two years to complete, said Turner-Lowe.

The total site area proposed for redevelopment involves about 26.8 acres of the Huntington’s 207-acre property. Usual Huntington events and activities may be slightly altered during renovations, but Turner-Lowe said the institution would remain open during the project.

New buildings would include:

  • An auditorium
  • Four classrooms
  • Below-grade collections and storage area with a connecting tunnel to the basement of the Munger Research Center

The Huntington Education and Visitor Center Project would replace the following existing facilities with new ones:

  • Overseers’ Room
  • Garden Court
  • Multi-purpose room
  • Store and ticketing kiosk
  • Coffee shop (currently a coffee cart)
  • Café portion of the tea room building
  • Restrooms
  • Loading dock

The proposed Huntington Education and Visitor Center Project would require three basic components:

  1. Modifying the existing Historical and Cultural Zone Ordinance (requires City Council approval)
  2. A conditional use permit to allow redevelopment of facilities, parking, landscaping and other improvements within the existing entry complex area
  3. A conditional use permit to allow The Huntington to occasionally exceed maximum daily vehicle counts and standard operating hours a limited number of days per year, and to allow larger outdoor events with amplified sound to be conducted only in certain areas on the site.

PCR's initial study determined that the environmental factors potentially affected by the project are:

  • aesthetics
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • land use/planning
  • transportation/traffic
  • cultural resources
  • air quality
  • noise
  • mandatory findings of significance (includes potential for environmental effects that cause substantial adverse effects on humans, directly or indirectly)

About a dozen of the attendees offered feedback Monday night and each was wary of the project.

“It will make a major effect on everyone in the city and I do not think they know it yet,” said Jeane Edwards, who has lived on Oxford Road across from the Huntington for 45 of the 55 years she has resided in San Marino. Edwards told Patch she was also the first docent at the Huntington.

“I think we’ve got to look at the impact on the city of all the cars, all the noise, all the sound of the music. I for one think it is going to destroy my property so I am not interested in the Huntington and I don’t know if it will destroy other people but I figure my property will go down one million dollars.”

Bob DeKruif, a San Marino resident who has lived on Oxford Road over 50 years, said the consultant’s presentation of the plan was “very very good." DeKruif then suggested that certain air quality issues be studied, including increased truck traffic during construction.

“The impact of additional passenger vehicles, the buses—no one has mentioned buses—the additional hours, effect of dirt removal and vegetation for parking area [are] all issues of air quality and concern,” said DeKruif.

After a rally of comments from concerned locals, San Marino resident Chuck Murray asked that someone at the Huntington put attendees’ minds at ease by telling the crowd the purpose of the Huntington construction and how it will help San Marino.  

“We are not trying to shift the experience of the Huntington,” Turner-Lowe told attendees. “We do not want to turn the Huntington into some entertainment venue. What we are looking to do is codify essentially what we’ve been doing for a long time. We are a collections-based research and educational institution.”

Turner-Lowe said the ordinance proposed for modification was written in the 1970s and has not properly characterized the Huntington’s activities.

“Every now and then we will have some number of gallery openings that will perhaps get some hundreds of people,” said Turner-Lowe, who also mentioned spoken word gatherings as opposed to concerts. “So we’re simply trying to work with the city to codify current activities. … We are focusing on physical facilities that would better serve our members and our visitors and it’s all about the quality of the educational experience.”

Under the proposed conditional use permit to allow additional events, the Huntington could exceed the maximum allowable daily vehicle count 12 days per year, exceed standard operating hours four times a year and allow certain large outdoor events with amplified sound to be conducted only in certain areas on the site.

Victor J. Kaleta, a resident of Pasadena on South Allen Avenue, where a group of neighbors sued the City of San Marino due to heavy traffic flow on the street leading directly to the Huntington, wondered what defined “large” and “certain areas” and what decibel limits would be imposed on the amplified sound mentioned in the CUP.

DeKruif, one of the residents concerned with exceeding vehicle count, noted the high volume of cars during the Huntington’s Chinese New Year celebration and its effect on residential side street parking.

The current ordinance counts the number of people going into the Huntington, not cars, so the revised ordinance would take cars into account, though Cervantes, Ziff, David Snow from the city attorney’s office and Huntington staff present did not have a number for the proposed limit of vehicles that they wanted to share Monday night.

The Huntington currently has 1100 parking spaces and the renovated parking lot will have 1100 parking spaces, according to Cervantes.

“When a number is available it will be a starting point for analysis and will likely be refined over the course of the process of environmental analysis and considered by city decision makers,” said Snow. “When that number comes out that is the beginning of the dialogue.”

Pasadena resident John Reeder, who lives on California Boulevard in Pasadena, shared that he was affected by an accord reached last year that prohibited heavy truck traffic on Allen Avenue, the most direct route to the Huntington. Traffic has since rerouted on California Boulevard, said Reeder, who noted heavy-duty truck traffic is “equally absurd” on that street since it’s listed as a deemphasized street in Pasadena’s general plan.

“The residents that I represent really say, ‘Isn’t the Huntington a San Marino institution? Why aren’t they sharing in the burdens of the Huntington’s success, i.e. truck traffic, bus traffic, etc.?’” Reeder told Patch after the meeting.

Turner-Lowe said after the meeting that this is the beginning of a process and the Huntington hoped for people to attend and be clear and candid with their concerns and it exceeded expectations on that front.

"Of course some of it gives us pause thinking through some of the concerns and impacts," said Turner-Lowe. "I'm excited for the environmental group to take this on and be very mindful of what some potential impacts might be or potential concerns might be and work with that and continue down the road."

Several residents expressed Monday night that ample notice of the meeting was not given and that those who had not read the notice in Thursday’s San Marino Tribune, the city's newspaper of record, would not know about the meeting.

Cervantes said that in addition to notice in Thursday’s San Marino Tribune, residents within a 300-foot radius were sent notices about the meeting and the Huntington project and he encouraged meeting attendees to provide their address and phone number on a sign-up sheet so the city can notify them about project updates. The city of Pasadena will also receive comments, the initial study and any other documents that the planning department or consulting firm prepares, Cervantes said.

The comments made on Monday, as well as those submitted to the San Marino Planning and Building Department by May 23 will be considered when PCR draws up the Draft Environmental Impact Report, which Ziff anticipates will be complete in late summer. The public can submit comments for 45 days after the Draft EIR is prepared and public hearings will take place following the Final EIR.

The public can submit initial comments in writing about issues or alternatives to be considered for the Draft Environmental Impact Report through 5 p.m. May 23. Those who want to be updated throughout the process can also contact Cervantes to be put on a notification list.

To comment by mail:

Aldo Cervantes, Senior Planner

City of San Marino Planning and Building Department

2200 Huntington Drive, 1st Floor

San Marino, CA 91108

To comment via email: acervantes@sanmarinoca.gov

To comment via fax: (626) 300-0716

For further questions, Cervantes can be reached by phone at (626) 300-0713.

Sara Edwards May 06, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Excellent article. We ask that the city of San Marino alerts us to the next round of meetings so we can air our concerns too. We love the Huntington, but let's not abuse the community to expand where it will mar the pluses of the historic site.

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