In 2009, you're going to hear a lot about St. Luke's. At Monday night's City Council meeting, DS Ventures will present its plans to develop the 13- acre property by converting the existing St. Luke's hospital building to an assisted living facility, and adding to the site 170 new condominium units, parking structures and a 50,000 square foot office building. The Council meeting is informational only -- to inform the council and public that a major project is being proposed. No decisions will be made. You can see the city staff report here. A site plan for the project, showing the existing and proposed new buildings, is attached to the city staff report.
Above is a view of St. Luke's Hospital as seen from New York Drive. That's Eaton Wash Reservoir in the foreground. The hospital was built in 1933 by the Sisters of St. Joseph and served our area's medical needs until it closed in 2002. This magnificent seven story Art Deco building is one of the most impressive landmarks in East Pasadena. Only the Stuart Pharmaceutical building rivals it.
In 2003, St. Luke's was sold to Cal Tech. Many were relieved that the future of this property was in good hands. The St. Luke's property is (and has always been) zoned for Public Service uses. Though the hospital was closed, Cal Tech would continue the historic Public Service use of the property by using it for education and research.
But, St. Luke's is located near the base of the San Gabriels, five miles from Cal Tech's campus. The location proved too remote from Cal Tech's main campus near downtown Pasadena. The venerable institution decided to sell and the property went on the market.
Developers salivated over the possibilities. Built-out Pasadena rarely sees a 13-acre parcel go on the market. And this was about 2006-2007. Developers were making bundles cranking out condominiums. As reported by Pasadena Now, Cal Tech's real estate broker called St. Luke's "an extraordinary assemblage of property" and said the property "generated interest from investors around the world."
Others were interested in the property too. Schools, churches, a cancer research center and other nonprofit users were interested. After all, the St. Luke's property was zoned for Public Service use and one might think it would be sold to another institutional user.
It may have been the irrational exuberance of the times or the mesmerizing image of acres of condos or just arrogance, but developers ignored the city's General Plan and zoning laws and lined up to bid on the property. Institutional users were priced out of the game. According to an October 2007, Los Angeles Business Journal article, in 2003 Cal Tech paid less than $20 million for the St. Luke's property. Four years later, it sold the property to Beverly Hills developer DS Ventures for more than $40 million.
To develop the property, DS Ventures will need the city to change the Public Service designation for the property. But, DS Ventures faces an even bigger challenge than that.
Pasadena's General Plan requires the city's growth to be limited to the city's downtown and along major transportation lines, such as the metro. This is the centerpiece to the city's growth plan -- a plan the city is fulfilling with dense development downtown and at metro stops. By aligning growth with public transportation and focusing it downtown, the city will hopefully reduce the need for cars, reduce pollution and make more efficient use of dwindling resources.
Based largely on our General Plan, our city is nationally known for progressive planning. The basics of the city's current General Plan were adopted back in 1994 as part of a campaign to "Imagine a Great City." Citizens turned out by the thousands to do just that. Guided by this guy and others, the city adopted a forward thinking General Plan that limits growth to targeted areas. It was cutting edge stuff at the time and put Pasadena planning at the forefront of the move away from auto-dependence and toward smarter growth.
So, in addition to doing away with the property's Public Service zoning, to carry out its plan to intensify use on the site, adding condos, parking structures and office uses, DS Ventures will need to convince the city to back away from the key to its General Plan. That may be tough to do.
The fact is the St. Luke's property is on the edge of the city, miles from downtown and miles from a metro stop. DS's plans to develop the property are out of touch with Pasadena's plan to target and limit growth and a hindrence to state and local efforts to reduce auto trips and emissions. With every day's news, it becomes more and more evident that we need to stop building for auto dependence and need to exercise greater care about how we affect our environment. The wisdom of Pasadena's plan to limit growth to targeted areas is proving more and more sound.
How will this all play out? Well, as I said at the start, in 2009, I think we're going to hear a lot about the St. Luke's property. Hopefully we'll also hear a lot about the City's General Plan, the need to reduce auto use and emissions and ways to better conserve our environment. In the process, we will learn much about Pasadena's commitment to remain an environmental and planning leader.