Information Source:


The September 19, 2002 Staff report to Planning Commission, which includes as background information Ordinance 1153, changing some properties to Institutional from Commercial, PC Resolution 96-05, Planning Commission Staff reports from June 18, 1998, March 21, 1996 and May 16, 1991, Minutes from the July 14 1998 City Council meeting after appeal of the Planning Commission's approval of the Church CUP, and the 2002 Application.  The Church properties in question (154 – 160 W. Sierra Madre Blvd.) are zoned Institutional, but the General Plan calls for the property to be used commercially.  When the CUP was originally applied for, the property was zoned Commercial, in addition to the General Plan designation as commercial.




CUP 1826-91 was granted to Congregational Church conditionally.  Condition B was that “Following the plans of the Congregational Church, the expansion of church use into the commercial use is limited to five years or until May 16, 1996.  At that time, the Minister of Administration will present a Master Plan to the Planning Commission.”  In 1996, the Church requested a modification with an extension of the church/institutional use for an additional 5 years.  The Staff report states that “the main impact is the loss of gross leaseable area and retail sales potential.  The economic impact on the retail expenditures and removal of the assessed values of the land from the tax roles continues to affect the goals of the Redevelopment Agency.


According to the 1996 staff report to the Planning Commission, “the administration of the Congregational Church has considered these factors and intends to return the 4 sites to commercial use within five years.”  They at that time estimated a 5-year accomplishment plan to fund AND CONSTRUCT (emphasis mine) their master plan.  The Staff report summary stated "To work cohesively with the Sierra Madre Congregational Church yet protecting the future of the commercial zone, staff is supportive of the extension for two years."  PC Resolution 96-05 Section 2 states that "the Planning Commission hereby approves the modification of Conditional Use Permit as conditioned: 1. The expansion of the church institutional use into the commercial zone is extended for two years to enable the Sierra Madre Congregational Church to fund and present a Master plan for expansion."  Section 3: Article 5 application requires "use if permitted, will, as to location and operation, be consistent with the objectives of the General Plan."  PC resolution response is that "sites will be returned to a commercial use upon expiration of the Church use on or prior to May 16, 1998. 

In 1997, Ordinance 1153 revising the zoning for the property to Institutional use was approved by the Planning Commission. Staff report of 3/10/98 to City Council discusses Ordinance No. 1143, I suspect it's a typo, because the PC minutes provided are for Ordinance 1153.  Despite the Institutional rezoning, the City's General Plan still calls for the property to be USED commercially.  And because it is zoned Institutional, it is required to apply for a CUP.


The 1998 staff report to Planning Commission dated 6/18/98 states that the Applicant stated that the purpose of the 2-year 1996 extension was "to provide an opportunity for the church to investigate a Master Plan project which would comprehensively address all property under their ownership.  Such a concept may include the swapping of land to allow for the future utilization of the 154-160 W. Sierra Madre Boulevard property to be utilized for commercial activity."  It further states  "staff suggested that the applicant establish some form of retail storefronts along Sierra Madre Blvd.  Therefore, retail operations may be maintained in the immediate front portion of the storefront, and the existing church functions can remain in the balance of the building.  This scenario would provide additional time for the church to continue to work on their long range master plan."  For some reason, the 2002 staff report doesn't include the 1998 decision of the Planning Commission which was appealed, and which led to City Council reviewing the issue on July 14, 1998.    


It appears from the 2002 staff report's copy of the minutes of the July 14, 1998 Council meeting that there was considerable community and Council discussion on this issue and of returning the space to commercial use, including the possible addition of a second floor, so that first floor could be used for commercial purposes, consistent with the General Plan.  It also states that prior to passage of the motion to approve a two year extension, City Attorney Charles Martin stated that what the "Council was doing is modifying the planning Commission's decision from a five-year CUP to a two year CUP and that City Council wants to see substantial progress toward retail in the next two years."  Note that both the June PC and July CC meetings took place after Ordinance 1153 was approved by the Planning Commission, rezoning the property as Institutional. 


Then the Planning Commission, in PC Resolution 00-10, seems to turn the issue to one of making the storefronts appear retail, rather than returning the storefronts to retail. 


The 2002 Staff report tells the Planning Commission that the issue before it is if  “the applicant has demonstrated a sufficient level of response to the concerns previously expressed by both the Planning Commission and City Council regarding the appearance of storefront windows.”  At the meeting, Commissioners discussed the fact that this is just an extension of the existing CUP.




It appears as though somewhere along the lines, the conditions of the CUP have been changed.  If this was an extension of the existing permit, shouldn't the Church have been required to show "substantial progress toward retail in 2 years" as requested by the Council in 1998?  Or return the property to Commercial use as required in PC Resolution 96-05?  The Church states in its 2002 CUP request that it has not made substantial progress on its master plan because it has been assisting with the adoption of the Zoning Ordinance.  That ordinance was passed in 1998, prior to Staff recommending Planning give the Church two more years to work on its master plan. 


Central to the Church’s argument that there would be no negative impact is the fact that the Church has been using the property in this manner for 11 years.  Had the Church conformed with CUP 1826-91, PC Resolution 96-05 or City Council Resolution 98-45, it would not have been using this property as classrooms for 11 years, and if, as stated by the Church in 1996, they had fulfilled their intent of returning the property to commercial use within five years, they would not have been using this property for this use for 11 years.  Thus, the Church’s inability to conform to prior CUP’s appears to be the very basis on which it is asking this Planning Commission to approve the current CUP.


Additionally, the argument that there is no negative impact completely discounts the positive impact to the business district that could be made by reducing the division between the East and West end commercial districts at a time when more than $1 million of tax payers money is being spent on downtown improvements, $100,000 of taxpayer money is being spent to promote the downtown area, and the re-opening of the Brewery and the recent opening of Coldstone Creamery are renewing interest in the downtown area.  The addition of as many as 5 new commercial businesses could add dramatically to the revitalization of the downtown area.


It seems the Church has had 11 years to prepare a Master Plan, a Master Plan that the Church stated in 1996  would take two years (Editor's Note: That should read five years, not two) to not only prepare but to fund and construct, yet at this point, the City has received only concept drawings.  Why should the Church be given more time?  The burden of proof is on the applicant. 


Bill Coburn

The Coburn Group