Planning Commission approves five-story project at 26th & Stevens

Credit: Rendering by DJR Architecture

The city Planning Commission approved a five-story project Oct. 5 to build apartments and commercial space at 113 E. 26th St., hearing concerns from residents about the size of the building.

The decision grants CPM Development a permit to build higher than four stories. The building will reach five stories (61 feet) at the corners of the building. City staff said the height is compatible with area building heights that range between one and seven stories.

A dry cleaner and gas station had operated on the property for decades until 1986, leaving the site contaminated with pollutants. Scott Nelson of DJR Architecture said ventilation similar to a radon mitigation system will vent through the roof of the new building. They can’t safely put residential units on the first floor, he said, and a membrane barrier will stand underneath the commercial floor slab.

City staff said that due to the contaminated soil, underground parking is costly and not practical. Two prior smaller-scale projects were proven economically infeasible, in part because of the soil conditions, staff said.

Nelson said the size of the building relates to the polluted soil.

“If we could get below-grade parking we could actually go to four stories and also make the building work within the C2 [floor area ratio],” Scott Nelson said.

That argument didn’t hold up with Giancarlo Casale, a nearby homeowner. Casale said his wife had given birth the night before, and he testified at her insistence because she felt the development decision was important for the future of the neighborhood and their family. He represented a group of neighbors who live in the immediate vicinity of the site.

“I think it’s extraordinary to have a building of this scale next to detached single-family houses,” he said.

He said the parapet is one foot short of the tallest building in Whittier.

“As residents who have been living with this for a long time and have been waiting for the day when this gaping sore in the middle of our neighborhood would finally be filled, this does not sit well,” he said.

The project would include 70 apartment units, with 46 parking spaces located in a surface lot and inside the building’s ground floor.

Marian Biehn, executive director of the Whittier Alliance, said the neighborhood did not support the proposed unit count at the building. She showed photos of surrounding streets already packed with cars. She also pressed for an “out of the box” design.

Nelson said CPM originally pitched a “workforce” housing project with lower rents, and the neighborhood requested some nicer, larger units. As a result they redesigned all of the unit layouts, he said, making larger two-bedroom units with additional bathrooms and swapping efficiencies for one-bedroom suites of about 500 square feet. They decided not to include three-bedroom units, as they didn’t see the corner as a family housing site.

One commissioner suggested requiring more three-bedroom units for families, but city staff advised that such a recommendation falls outside the Planning Commission’s authority.

In approving the project, commissioners added a 10-foot setback on the fifth floor’s south edge, asked for upgraded building materials, and recommended a more contiguous building design.

Commissioner Ben Gisselman told residents he heard their concerns.

“At this point, I think the city and the comprehensive plan wants development on this site, and I don’t think that we have the authority to force the applicant to spend more to remove the soil if they have a different measure that they’re putting in place to remediate the concern,” he said.