East Edition Local News

Whittier council approves plans for former youth detention facility

WHITTIER — After seven years of study, community meetings and lawsuits, plans to redevelop the 75-acre former Fred C. Nelles Juvenile Detention Facility may have passed its final hurdle Jan. 24 as the City Council approved the site plan, with some amendments, for a $250 million project.

The 4-0 vote came after a two-hour public hearing during which council members scrutinized the plan, questioned staff and the developer, Brookfield Homes, and went into a closed session after midnight to review pending litigation which, according to City Attorney Richard Jones, could not be discussed in public.

However, he said the litigation, concerning open space issues, would not affect action on the overall plan.

Mayor Joe Venitieri, Mayor Pro Tem Robert Henderson and council members Fernando Dutra and Josue Alvarado supported the plan. Councilwoman Cathy Warner, who was present through the closed session, did not stay for a final vote.

“We are ready to go,” said David Bartlett, principal of Brookfield Homes. “We look forward to submitting our engineering and architectural plans to the city immediately.”

He said construction should begin by the end of the year.

Planned are a mixture of 750 town homes, apartments and 80 single-family homes scattered throughout the site and about 158,200 square feet of commercial development on about 17.7 acres, mostly along Whittier Boulevard and Sorenson Avenue.

When developed, Bartlett said, the businesses are expected to generate about $300 million in sales. Under an agreement with the city, there will be a share of revenues estimated at $1 million a year.

The project will provide 650 jobs and revenue of about $3.5 million to schools in the city, Bartlett said.

Connell McNamara, director of community development for the city, said the plan before council Jan. 24 detailed a general master plan agreement approved by the council in July 2015. The plan was approved by the council-appointed Design Review Commission last fall and by the Planning Commission Dec. 19.

City Consultant Margit Allen outlined the plan, noting there would be about five acres of “pocket parks” scattered throughout the site, a 10-foot wide, landscaped Freedom Trail for pedestrians and bicyclists meandering through the area, a Heritage Court where three historic buildings will be preserved along with restaurants and offices.

The trail will begin at the main entrance off Whittier Boulevard and Sorenson Avenue.

Preserved, due to a court settlement with historic preservation groups, were the homes of the superintendent and assistant superintendent of the Nelles complex, an administration building and a building housing Catholic and Protestant chapels, built in the early part of the 20th century. A gymnasium was renovated, Allen said.

One of the residential units will be a four-story, 82-unit apartment complex for “active seniors” with a private area for recreational activities.

During the public hearing, five residents urged approval of the plan, one voicing fears that further delays would cause the developer to drop the project and let the site remain under state ownership with no revenue. Five others generally supported the plan but said improvements must be made for traffic circulation and that five acres is not enough open space for 750 housing units.

It was noted that a main exit for some of the residents would be through a market parking lot.

Those items were discussed in the closed session.

“We have played by the rules and followed the master plan,” said Bartlett, who defended the small pocket parks, saying such parks were popular and well-used in the complex in which he and his family lived.

He said the development “has something for everyone, from a young college graduate needing a one-bedroom apartment to families in units of three to four bedrooms and the senior citizen complex.

Bartlett acknowledged that although the state has agreed to sell the site, it still owns it.

The administration building that was constructed in 1929, has its own historical designation and must be protected, according to the state.

The facility originally opened in July 1891 for boys and girls and switched to boys only in 1916. It closed in June 2004.