STOP the Monastery Housing Project
Preserve the Mater Dolorosa Monastery
TO THOSE CONCERNED WITH KEEPING THE CHARACTER OF SIERRA MADRE AS A “VILLAGE OF THE FOOTHILLS” WE NEED YOUR HELP
The Mater Dolorosa monastery has been directed by the Chicago Province, which owns the land, to sell 20 acres of their land. The ostensible reason is to raise money for its ongoing missions and for the care of its aging priests. The monastery is zoned Institutional but claims on its website “because the institutional proposals we have received appear likely to have a greater negative impact on the serenity we seek for retreatants who visit the site and on our immediate neighbors, we have decided to pursue a single family home residential development at this time.”
The monastery’s developer is proposing a 42 house development, with a 3.5 acre park and has entered into an MOU (Memorandum Of Understanding) with the City. This would require a rezoning of the property from Institutional to Residential. An EIR (Environmental Impact Report) has been ordered and the Draft EIR and the Developers Specific plan will be available to the public for comment once released. These documents will answer some questions, but undoubtedly will raise more issues.
Even before the release of that information, the Stop the Monastery Housing Project Coalition has decided that we are strongly opposed to the proposed development for the following reasons:
OUR OBJECTIONS ARE:
The proposed plan is contrary to Sierra Madre’s General Plan, which was created over a period of eight years with significant public input. The General Plan is required to be the City’s Vision and a blueprint of how the City can retain its unique character. The proposed development is contrary to many goals and policies of that plan
The area to be developed is within the City’s High Fire Severity Zone, the highest fire danger rating there is. With many homes covering most of the area to be developed (they are requesting less setbacks and more lot coverage). Houses packed closer together are contrary to Fire Safety Recommendations.
The previous monastery building, which was close to the area to be developed, was badly damaged in an Earthquake, and Earthquake fault lines and branches are close to the area to be covered with large houses.
The land is being developed with a quarter of the buildings to be built on the West Side of Sunnyside Avenue, directly abutting the existing neighborhood homes. The developer will not commit to single story homes or building those homes on the East Side of Sunnyside, with the park on the west. The project will severely affect the views, privacy, property values and peaceful enjoyment of those properties, contrary to the Sierra Madre General Plan. Additionally, NUW can effectively build all planned 42 homes on the east side of Sunnyside, and make the same amount of profit. This alternative would allow at least part of the land to be preserved for future generations.
Additionally, the West Side of the property to be developed has been used for many years as a helicopter landing site to assist our Search and Rescue Members and to transport injured hikers. In the past, when fire has approached that area, the west side has been used for Staging of Fire and other Rescue vehicles. Developing all of that area increases the Safety Risk to the entire City, especially in case of a major disaster.
The proposed project will also eliminate the precious Open Space along with the beautiful wildlife that grazes there. While the proposed project does include a 3 acre developed park, it provides no unimproved open space to be used by all of the citizens and no wildlife corridor.
LACK OF VIABLE ALTERNATIVES: The monastery has stated that they think this project is the most advantageous to the serenity they desire and having the least impact on their neighbors. However we know that they have refused to even look at or consider one alternative project (that we know of) since 2017 until late in 2020 when some citizens asked that it be at least considered for review. Many of us feel that this alternative is far less impactful and in keeping with Sierra Madre’s General Plan. IF the monastery had opened this project for bids (they have not, at least since 2017) and could SHOW why they feel their current proposed project is best, we could only then consider their statement valid.
Traffic circulation and condition of the roads. Residents on Sunnyside Avenue have always lived with the monastery traffic, which is heavy at times, and are understandably concerned about the increased traffic from the proposed development in their quiet neighborhood. The initial presentations by the City and the Monastery said that Carter Avenue would be improved as a second road of ingress and egress, to alleviate the traffic burden on Sunnyside. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the City and the Developer lists one of the developers “obligations” “To negotiate with Los Angeles County to secure sufficient approvals to improve, to the satisfaction of the County Engineer, West Carter Avenue between North Lima Street and the gate of the Property, as more particularly described in Attachment C (“Street Improvements”)”
The county did not agree to the widening and was not noticed on the NOP (Notice of Preparation). We do not know if the traffic and Circulation studies in the DEIR were based on the changed plan. The projected traffic according to the developer was almost 400 trips a day, not counting gardeners and other workmen, visitors, delivery people and all monastery traffic, including staff, retreatants and deliveries. How much traffic is too much to impact the way of life for the Sunnyside residents? Is there a safety issue?
City resources. The upkeep of the park, though funded, will require the use of City personnel. All streets, streetlights, hydrants, water and sewer lines involved will need to be maintained by the city. It is possible that additional fire and police will be required. Will the taxes from these homes be in excess of those possible added expenses?
Water. Although we are now able to buy enough water for the City, the Statewide and Country wide drought is continuing unabated and purchased water will be increasingly expensive. The project says that it will be Net Zero water. It plans to use funds to retrofit some less efficient fixtures in town and have buyers pay (into a dedicated fund? Managed by the city? What if water prices rise over the anticipated amount?) for the water to be used by each home. (Is that only household water? Does it include sprinklers and swimming pools? Can we restrict swimming pools?) Can we protect our precious water supply by restricting development, especially of large homes?
The City has plans to build a well which is anticipated to provide much or all of the City’s future need for water. Until the well is built and comes online, adding significant uses of water based on what is “anticipated” should not be permitted.
We hope that many of these questions will be answered when we receive the Draft Environmental Impact report and the Developers Specific Plan.
We intend to send regular emails providing more information on each of these subjects and will have the same information available on our website at:
HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP!
1 Talk to your neighbors!! If they would like to be added to our database for current news and information, tell them to contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org Please forward this email to anyone you think should know about our position.
2. If you can afford to give a donation to help us with our cause (For STOP the Monastery Development Lawn Signs and mailings, and for hiring of critical resources ( environmental review specialist, attorney) even $5 helps. Contact us at: email@example.com
3. We hope to have more lawn signs soon, and will appreciate your putting one on your lawn to show your support. Let us know if you would like one.
Stop the Monastery Housing Project Coalition
We wanted to provide a critical update on what is happening with the Monastery Housing Development Project. On Tuesday, March 9 at 4:00pm there will be a city council meeting at Memorial Park and New Urban West (NUW), the developer, will be presenting (selling) to our City Council the 42 house development. We need you to be there to make your voice heard!
As we've been sharing, this is the largest housing development in the history of Sierra Madre and will remove the last remaining 'open space' in our beautiful city by the foothills.
There are several important reasons why we are firmly opposed to this project going forward in its present form:
1) Removal of Last Remaining Open Space in Sierra Madre: The Monastery plans to build 42 one and two story homes across 20 acres of the last undeveloped space in Sierra Madre. Many families have come to the Monastery for generations to this beautiful open space to walk, and enjoy quiet in the beauty of the foothills. Apparently, the fathers and priests, along with the Monastery owners in Chicago, have forgotten what this precious land means to the people of Sierra Madre and what the land is supposed to mean to their passionist mission. Remember the special Good Friday services, remember being able to walk the land and see the beautiful hills and deer and other wildlife. Remember, being able to have a quiet contemplative space, maybe to pray, maybe to share a special moment with a loved one. All that and more is under serious threat right now. This land has been protected from development since 1924 and we need to keep it this way for now and future generations.
2) Heavy Marketing Push by New Urban West: Don't be thrown off by the glitzy marketing email and flyer that New Urban West just sent out last week sharing how they are being a 'good neighbor' to local residents of Sierra Madre. Anyone who has seen the proposal with 42 homes that will completely annihilate the last remaining open space in our lovely city will easily see they do not care about being a good neighbor. They are building maximum size homes that will very negatively affect local neighbors and the broader city of Sierra Madre. And they are certainly not being a good neighbor for the wildlife that call this land home. New Urban West has the audacity to name this project 'The Meadows'. Yesterday, there were twenty deer lounging and feeding on the west field alone. The meadows and everything special they represent to our lovely city and families are going to be destroyed so the Passsionist organization and New Urban West can monetize and maximize for profit. Remember, New Urban West is the same development company that first made a push in 2015 to build at the Monastery and enough Sierra Madreans rose up to voice their concerns and NUW decided to walk away. Why are they thinking this time they are going to be successful with extracting their maximum profit from our City? Let's not let that happen.
3) Impact of building in an Extreme Fire Risk area: As we all experienced last summer, parts of Sierra Madre north of Grandview needed to be evacuated due to the fires that were threatening. Fire department helicopters actually used the west field of the Monastery for landing and staging to fight the fire. What sense does it make to build 42 additional homes with more people density in this extreme fire risk area? Additionally, if at least the west field is spared from development and the home building is concentrated on the east field, then the field can continue to be available for fire-fighting, and other emergency services necessary for earthquakes and other critical safety needs.
4) Traffic, Traffic, Congestion, Congestion: One of the things that makes Sierra Madre so cherished compared to other local foothill cities is that we have not allowed our city to be consumed by mcmansions and development that creates huge traffic and congestion across our small city. With the approval of this project, Sierra Madreans will be forced to endure at least two years of construction, dust, and trucks going up Sunnyside and around the city. Then there is the increased traffic and congestion that will come from another 42 homes that will forever negatively impact the special quality of life we love and enjoy.
5) Timing of This Project: Why is this project being pushed through so quickly, while we are still in the middle of the worst pandemic that our country has had in 100 years? NUW is talking about community outreach. Truth be told, they have only had (1) public meeting (August 2020) where residents could participate in person and ask the hard questions. Zoom meetings such as the two zoom meetings NUW had last week do not equate to sufficient public opportunity to learn about the project, dialogue and ask hard questions. Many people also prefer in-person meetings over zoom. When you're talking about the biggest housing development ever and the impacts it will bring, that is not too much to ask. Candidly, as we all know, our country has suffered immeasurably over the last 12 months, losing 500,000 Americans to COVID. People are trying to stay healthy, not lose their jobs and take care of their loved ones. In other words they are understandably not paying as much attention to other things, including huge land development projects. NUW and the Monastery understand that and are taking advantage of it by trying to ram this project through with as little public awareness as possible. The decent, honorable thing to do would have been to delay communications and meetings on this project until the pandemic was under control.
6) Viable Alternatives to the Housing Development: Why have there been zero alternative options to the proposed 42 home development presented to the citizens of Sierra Madre? The only options NUW has presented are huge communal living and high school options, both of which would not come close to passing regulatory guidelines (Environment Impact Review) and they know it. However, they simply want to instill fear into our residents by essentially saying you either take this 42 housing development or we could build something much worse. No, the truth of the matter is that they can't because it would never be approved. We need to insist that there is a VIABLE alternative option presented to our residents and City Council that can be evaluated alongside the 42 housing development.
Here is how you can help:
- We need you to come to Memorial Park on Tuesday, March 9 at 4:00pm for the City Council meeting where the proposal will be discussed. This is critical as opinions will be formed either way and you have the opportunity to make your voice heard.
- Call or email the City Council and Mayor to express your concerns about this project going forward
- Stay aware and engaged. Like we did six years ago, if enough of us voice our strong opposition to this project, we can once again send NUW packing!
Stop the Monastery Housing Project Coalition
Dear Concerned Resident:
As some of you may know, the Monastery housing project that was halted in 2014 with the enactment of the water meter moratorium is currently winding it’s way forward at a time when most people have been distracted by a global pandemic. That is not a coincidence. The proposed plan will result in one of the largest housing projects that Sierra Madre has seen in decades and will result in the destruction of open space, displacement of wildlife, increased traffic though out Sierra Madre, perhaps parking meters in our downtown area, Sierra Madre’s first traffic light, further stress on our water supply and other city infrastructure and an adverse impact on the neighbors.
We have decided to reactivate the Stop the Monastery Housing Project Coalition, which will be completely separate and distinct from the Preserve Sierra Madre Coalition. We intend to marshal a grass roots campaign to stop the housing project or, at the very least, substantially influence it to prevent all the negative consequences that would result from such a large project. We don’t believe the project as currently proposed is in the best interest of the residents of Sierra Madre for the reasons stated above. It is also being rushed through with little public input.
We also have come to the conclusion that nobody is looking out for the residents. We know that Mater Dolorosa and their developer, New Urban West, are on one side of the table with their own goals, objectives and profit ambitions. It has also become readily apparent that the City Staff and particularly, the City Manager, Gabe Engeland, are on the same side of the table as Mater Dolorosa and their developer and have utterly removed themselves from any degree of objectivity. We cannot trust our City Staff and City Manager to look out for the residents when every indication has been that they are already in favor of the project without even knowing all of the details. In sum, nobody is looking out for us. If we do nothing, then the developer has a green light to do whatever they want, which for the developer living outside of Sierra Madre, is to maximize their profit at our expense.
On or about December of 2019, Mater Dolorosa contracted with the county to spray a herbicide on the 20 acres that they are trying to develop which turned a once beautiful grassland into a barren desert. The ostensible reason for doing so was because of a “tumbleweed” problem that the neighbors we have talked to have never seen before. Many of us think the reason they sprayed was to make an area that was referred to as “The Meadows” as ugly as possible because, after all, if the land looks like a barren desert, who would want to save it The neighbors did not receive any notice about the spraying so that they and their pets could stay in doors during the spraying. Is the chemical that was used, while perhaps deemed safe now, going to still be considered safe 10 years from now? In the recent Santa Ana winds, a dust cloud 100 feet high was observed blowing off the now barren field towards the southern neighbors and west side neighbors. Is the chemical agent that was used still in the soil and is it harmful to breath in and have the dust settle all over their properties? We understand that Mater Dolorosa intends to keep that land in the same barren condition up until the time they hope construction will begin a year or so from now. The only way to do that will be to spray their property again, and once again, if no one cares, or if neighbors aren’t aware of what they are doing, they will continue to do it.
The housing project will require a zoning change from institutional use to residential use. The City Council does not have to approve that zoning change. Pleases remember that the City Council is supposed to represent us. We elected them. The City Staff including the City Manager are supposed to work for us. We pay their salary. As it stands right now however, a small number of people are trying to push this project forward at a time when no one is looking. They have had only one public forum and yet they already have a draft EIR report that has been submitted to the city. They are not going about the process the right way for a project that will be so impactful on the neighbors and the entire community.
We need your help just as many of you helped back in 2013. We need people to be involved. No one is looking out for us. We must band together to influence what happens there. Decisions are being made that will affect your quality of life, the value of your property and the small-town village of Sierra Madre.
Here is how you can help right now:
1. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the latest updates and calls to action. We must be able to communicate with you.
2. Let us know if you would like to be on the Steering Committee so that our coalition can best represent all constituencies.
3. Our website, that has been dormant since 2013, is being re-activated. You will find us at www.stopmonasteryhousingproject.com
4. Share this letter with your neighbors. We need help to get the word out before it’s too late.
5. We have Stop the Monastery Housing Project signs available for distribution. Please let us know if you would like a sign.
We know that times are difficult. But hopefully 2021 will be better than 2020. We need your help to the degree that you can help. Even simple things like writing an email or showing up for a meeting can go a long way. Again, we need the numbers in order to have an impact.
Stop the Monastery Housing Project
What has happened?
A proposal is moving forward to sell a significant portion of the Mater Dolorosa Monastery to a developer to build a housing project. This project must be stopped before it's too late. The project itself will require a zoning change from institutional to residential.
For most of us, we first heard the news of this project in the Mountain Views News article of November 16th entitled; "Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center Contemplating Housing Project." Since then, there has been a groundswell of concern and shock, that this 88 acre oasis of beauty is about to be carved up, sold to a developer, and lost forever.
How Can You Help?
1. Send us your email address so that we can contact you and give you the latest information and news alerts.
2. Email us and ask for a “Stop the Monastery Housing Project!” yard sign.
3. Call the Mater Delorosa Monastery at 626-355-7188, Archbishop Gomez at 213-637-7534 and Father Donald Webber at 773-631-6336. Share with them what the Monastery has meant to you.
4. Contact your Sierra Madre City Council members and let them know how you feel.
5. Contact everyone you know who may share your concerns about this project.
6. If you have any special expertise that you can lend to the cause, let us know. We are interested in retaining formal legal representation to assist us in our efforts.