by Winston Chua
After almost five hours of discussion – yes, five – the San Marino City Council on Monday night (and almost Tuesday morning) denied an appeal to the Planning Commission’s approval of a proposed 43,000 square foot expansion to the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. The council directed city staff to prepare resolutions of finding to make final approval of the project and the ordinance would then receive a second reading at an upcoming council meeting.
The Huntington will then submit drawings for plan check and review, according to Senior Planner Aldo Cervantes, which could take from several weeks to several months. Cervantes added that the city staff reserves the right, two times a year, to review the parking figures to make sure The Huntington is in compliance and committed to being a good neighbor to its surrounding residents, not putting them under the added pressure of not being able to park in front of their own homes during heavy traffic days like this month’s Chinese New Year celebration, Mother’s Day or plant sales.
Still under debate – and not part of Monday’s decision – is The Huntington’s method of counting attendees. Councilmen Allan Yung and Eugene Sun stood firm on supporting a cap to the number of commercial buses that are allowed to enter The Huntington, but later agreed to take the restrictions out of the ordinance for future study under the city’s parking and transportation management plan. Mayor Richard Sun and Councilman Dick Ward wanted to deny the appeal from the first straw vote. Councilman Dennis Kneier recused himself from the meeting as he resides across the street from the south boundary of The Huntington.
The Huntington currently operates under a cap stating that no more than 4,200 people are allowed on the property, not including employees.
Under the new guidelines, no more than 2,950 vehicles will be allowed to enter the property on a given day, including visitors, employees and lecturers. The property currently has just 1,200 public parking spaces on site and a small employee parking lot. The Huntington claims approximately 800 employees, including visiting readers and lecturers.
The matter was kicked back to the city council by the San Marino Planning Commission over the matter of vehicle count. The Planning Commission approved the vast majority of the project, but wanted commercial buses excluded from the vehicle count and capped. The new guidelines do not have a cap on commercial buses – as many of which can be fit on the property will now be included in the 2,950 vehicle total. There is no cap on school buses, which are counted as part of the 2,950 vehicle maximum.
The majority of residents who packed the Barth Community Room at the Crowell Public Library spoke in favor of what is known as The Huntington’s ‘Education and Visitor Center Project.’
Those who raised their voice in opposition including attorney Fred Gaines, urged The Huntington to be a more considerate neighbor to those around. Filming at The Huntington has increased in the past 13 years, after The Huntington experienced little filming in it’s first 50 years. At least 17 movies were filmed on the garden premises since 1997, including ‘Beverly Hills Ninja,’ ‘The Hot Chick’ and ‘The Wedding Planner.’
Plans also call for significant changes to the institution’s unique parking area and the Huntington insists its expansion will not turn itself into a circus.
“We are extremely pleased that the San Marino City Council approved every aspect of the Education and Visitor Center project on Monday,” Huntington President Steve Koblik told The Tribune. “The city undertook a very thorough, lengthy and thoughtful examination of the project, which included a substantial amount of public input, and arrived at a very reasonable conclusion. We are grateful to the council and we are pleased with the process. Our hope now is that the project will be approved on final reading and that we can move forward with our fundraising efforts.”
Susan Turner-Lowe, Vice President for Communication, indicated that the organization did not have funding for the $60 million project.
“So much is still up in the air,” she said. “But we remain very, very hopeful.”
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