Exemption Sought In Building 722 Apartment Units At Redlands Mall

Next week, the Redlands Planning Commission will consider Village Partners Ventures, LLC’s proposal to transform the largely vacant 11.15-acre Redlands Mall, which formerly hosted the Harris’ department store, from what was once an intensified and flourishing commercial center into a mixed use development with a dense residential component.
Village Partners’ effort hinges on three premises, with the first and most dynamic being that city officials will welcome the rejuvenation of the property after it has remained unproductive for more than a decade, and that those officials will accordingly facilitate the application for the project’s approval. The second premise is that it can be considered to be in conformance with the Transit Villages Specific Plan, a subcomponent of the Redlands General Plan adopted in 2017 that envisions mixed uses including relatively high density residential units in the districts around the train stations to be built in Redlands as part of the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority’s “Arrow” light rail passenger line tentatively slated to begin operating in 2022. Those train stations are to be located proximate to the New York Street/Redlands Boulevard intersection, the Downtown Redlands station at the historic Santa Fe Depot at the convergence of Orange Street and Shoppers Lane and the rail line terminus at University Station at University Street and Park Place. The third premise is that the project will be deemed exempt from Measure U, which was passed by Redlands’ voters in 1997 and imposed strict height and density restrictions on development that can only be suspended with a four-fifths vote of the city council.
Noteworthy characteristics of the project are that it will entail a five-story structure and 722 residential units.
On the Redlands Planning Commission agenda for its meeting on Tuesday, April 27 is the consideration of the project, described as “a transit-oriented mixed use project built in phases.” Approval of the item would clear the way, according to the staff report accompanying the agenda, for Village Partners Ventures, LLC to “demolish existing on-site buildings and improvements; construct multiple mixed-use buildings with up to 3-, 4-, and 5-stories; construct up to 722 multifamily dwelling units to include live/work, studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units ranging between 475 and 1,500 square-feet each; construct an approximately 10,000 square-foot recreational amenity multi-story building including an exterior pool and resident areas; construct up to 73,000 square-feet of commercial floor area on ground floors to include retail and restaurant uses, as well as a rooftop restaurant; construct up to 12,000 square-feet of office space on upper floors; [complete a] pedestrian plaza totaling approximately 16,500 square-feet; construct a six-level parking structure with 780 spaces and two single-level subterranean parking structures each with approximately 240 spaces; construct a 14,600 square-foot single tenant retail building for a pharmacy on the south side of Citrus Avenue at Eureka Street; construct public and private open space areas to include landscaping, shade trees, street trees, and pedestrian improvements; and construct related site improvements to include sidewalks, driveways, landscape, lighting, flood prevention, and public and private utility connections.”
The pharmacy referenced pertains to the CVS drug store, one of the last remaining commercial operations yet open on the mall site. It will be relocated across Citrus Avenue onto 1.1 acres located at the southeast corner of Citrus Avenue and Eureka Street, which currently exists as a parking lot.
West State Street, which currently terminates at Orange Street, is to be extended through the project.
The project is intended to be transit-oriented in keeping with the Transit Villages concept, such that the residents in the project’s apartments will be able to leave their vehicles parked in the project’s parking structures and easily walk to the downtown train platform located at most no more than the distance of three football fields – 1,200 feet – to the north. Those residents will also be able to “make multiple stops at a coffee shop, restaurant, bank, medical office, neighborhood grocery, pharmacy, post office, or cleaners all within a half-mile radius, in about one hour or less, and without needing a motor vehicle,” according to the staff report prepared for the planning commission.
The staff report indicates that elements of Measure U, a growth limitation measure passed into law by the city’s voters more than two decades ago, can be bypassed. The first section of the staff report addresses the importance of evading the restrictions of Measure U if the project is to proceed.
The report notes that the developer is attempting to maneuver around the city’s restrictions banning projects involving structures higher than two stories or more than 18 units per acre. “The applicant is requesting a city council determination that the proposed project is exempt from Measure ‘U’ (which included provisions specifically exempting certain types of development),” the report states. “Measure ‘U’ Section 2, Part B (Exemptions), is listed below. The applicant is requesting exemption based on category D, “Development directly related to proposed Metrolink stations in the City of Redlands….”
The report then quotes the language in Measure U relating to such exemptions. That language reads, “2. Special Categories of Development. The provisions of this initiative measure shall not apply to the following:
A. New individual infill construction of single family homes on existing lots of record bounded by developed property as of March 1, 1997;
B. Rehabilitation, remodeling or additions to existing single family residential structures;
C. Reconstruction or replacement of any uses to the same density, intensity and classification of use as existed on the effective date, including legal non-conforming uses;
D. Development directly related to proposed Metrolink stations in the City of Redlands, including one at the University of Redlands;
E. New development projects subject to the Downtown Specific Plan 45, upon a four-fifths (4/5ths) vote of the total authorized membership of the city council; and
F. Special, temporary or occasional uses of public streets including parades, local sporting and cultural events, graduation ceremonies, approved and other occasional public gatherings.”
It is Village Partners Ventures, LLC’s contention that the project it is proposing qualifies for the exemptions under category D and possibly E. The Downtown Specific Plan 45 has in some measure been superseded by the Transit Villages Specific Plan.
According to the staff report, “The Mall site (11.15 acres) is approximately 650 feet to the south of the Santa Fe Depot train station at its closest point (with three routes of pedestrian access available along Third Street, Orange Street, and Eureka Street), and approximately 1,200 feet to the south of the Santa Fe Depot train station at its farthest point. The property at the southeast corner of Citrus Avenue and Eureka Street is approximately 1,300 feet to the south of the Santa Fe Depot train station at its farthest point, which is no more than 1/4-mile from the Metrolink and Arrow train platforms.”
It is unknown at this time whether there will be active resistance to granting the exemptions by a heavy contingent of Redlands residents and activists who consider themselves watchdogs with regard to any efforts to compromise the principles of Measure U.
Last year, Redlands residents were called upon to consider Measure G, which was placed by the city council on the March 3, 2020 California Primary ballot. Measure G sought to undo all of the provisions of Measure R, Measure N and Measure U in the city’s 782-acre central corridor and make further general sallies against Measures R, N, and U throughout the city. Specifically, Measure G called for eliminating the requirement that a four-fifths vote of the city council is needed to approve residential densities exceeding 18 dwelling units per acre, eliminate the current requirement that a four-fifths vote of the city council is needed to approve residential buildings exceeding two stories or 35 feet in height, eliminate the need for developers to ensure that the level of traffic flow that exists at the intersections proximate to their projects prior to the construction of their projects be maintained after the projects are completed, eliminate the requirement that the voters of the city rather than the city council be solely authorized to establish any new land use designations in the city, eliminate the requirement that the proponents of certain new development projects prepare a socioeconomic‐cost/benefit study before approval of those projects, eliminate the requirement that certain residential subdivision projects be subject to competitive review for issuance of building permits, and eliminate the requirement that the developers of new projects pay 100 percent of the development impact fees that are imposed on those projects. Measure G also called for rescinding the earlier voter‐approved measures R, N and U, which prohibit more than 400 residential dwelling units being constructed within the city in any year.
Measure G was soundly defeated, gathering 7,798 votes of support, or 35.12 percent of the ballots cast, while being met by 14,407 votes in opposition, equal to 64.88 percent rejection.
-Mark Gutglueck

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