Angelos Street View

Angelo’s & Vinci’s: will the city demolish it to provide parking for it?

Matthew Leslie

 

Anyone who attended the joint Fullerton City Council and Planning Commission Study Session on the Fox Block Tuesday night might be tempted to believe that time is cyclical, or in Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return (“I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again,” joked Woody Allen). Didn’t we all, at some time in the not too distant past, watch Pelican-Laing’s Dick Hamm pitch his mundane ideas for developing some city-owned property or other, like Amerige Court? And didn’t we all see “architectural” renderings depicting some sort of contest to see how many boxy stucco structures could be crammed into the block surround the Fullerton’s historic Fox Theater just a few years ago?

Yes, we did, but then Dick Hamm and Pelican-Laing were hired last year to pitch ideas for what to do with the so-called Fox Block, currently stranded in post Redevlopment limbo, and Tuesday night we all got to see and hear their best efforts, which were less than inspiring, to say the least.

Despite the mind numbing sense of deja vu, the evening was somehow still full of surprises. Pelican-Laing had four proposals in their report, presented by the perpetually tanned Mr. Hamm, and two of them included buying and demolishing Angelo’s & Vinci’s Ristorante. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Half of Dick Hamm’s four proposed scenarios for development on the Fox Block site were at least partially predicated on buying and leveling the restaurant whose parking agreement with the city is given as the very reason for building anything on the site in the first place.

Before we decide just how far off into the clouds this effort has ascended, let’s quickly review the four possible development options, as presented by Mr. Hamm:

  1. A parking structure on the big rectangular part of the L-shaped parking lot south of Ellis Place.
  1. A parking structure plus a mixed use, two and one half-storey development on the triangular parking lot north of the A & V’s, and a two-storey office building, residential, and/or mixed use building on the Chapman/Pomona corner site.
  1. A parking structure, residential condos, and a retail courtyard on Harbor, with possible development on the triangle and Pomona sites.
  1. A parking structure, an eight screen movie theater with retail on Harbor.

Even Mr. Hamm and Pelican-Laing’s report make it clear that they do not favor # 4, the movie theater proposal, but # 3 was taken seriously by the some of the elected and appointed officials that night, leaving stunned audience members to speculate about the real motives behind the whole effort to develop around the Fox Fullerton in the first place.

We also had to wonder why, if Angelo’s & Vinci’s was fair game for a purchase to make room for development, the recently renovated McDonald’s was not. After all, just a few years ago the city was seriously contemplating spending $ 6 million to move the fast food restaurant from its present location, inconveniently in the middle of the southern boundary of the site, to a more development-friendly location on the southeast corner of Chapman and Pomona. No one had a ready answer to that question.

Although the proceedings were characterized as a Study Session, the city planning staff nonetheless sought guidance from the council about which scenarios to seriously consider. Mayor Whitaker conducted an informal straw poll of the five council members and the six present members of the Planning Commission. Even a straw poll, however, seemed out of order for an item designated “Receive and File.”

Fox Block Report Cover

No, it won’t fund the Fox Theater, but the report does have digital holes punched in it.

Matthew Leslie

Remember the Fox Block? How could we forget it? It began as a proposed complex of retail buildings and a parking garage and maybe more movie theaters that would more or less surround the historic Fox Fullerton Theater. The theater has been undergoing restoration since being saved from the developer’s wrecking ball over twelve years ago. But the deal that saved it also guaranteed extra parking for the adjoining Angelo’s and Vinci’s Ristoronte if and when the historic Fox Theater ever opens again to the public.

Mark your calendars: Tuesday, August 29, 6:30 p.m. City Council Chambers, 303 W. Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832.

https://www.cityoffullerton.com/cals/default.asp?ViewBy=7&CalDate=8/29/2017&EventDateID=93436

The link is to a city web page with a long chronology of the project, including last year’s decision to choose Dick Hamm and Pelican Communities to propose development plans for review by the Planning Commission and City Councils (and you, so be there to have your voice heard). Fullerton residents will recall that it was Dick Hamm who was originally attached the still unbuilt (fortunately!) Amerige Court/Commons project downtown. This time they are just here to present different possibilities for bland, overbuilt attempts at urbanity, and not necessarily to build them. Details can be found at this link:

The Fox Block Development Plan Report can be found at this link:

https://www.cityoffullerton.com/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=24991

The report begins with the history and context of the site, then progresses to summarize the results of various meetings with neighbors, institutions, businesses, and the general public. The plan includes an illustration of what are identified as “project areas” and “opportunity areas.”

Fox Block Opportunty Sites

Oh, the many opportunities for dullness…

 

The Project Areas consist of

  1. The L-shaped parking lot directly behind the Fox Theater that extends north to Ellis.
  1. The rectangle on the corner of Pomona and Chapman, bordered by existing residences to the north.
  1. The triangle-shaped parking lot just north of Angelo’s and Vinci’s, bordered by the creek to the north.

The Opportunity Site is the existing parking structure located across Chapman and Pomona. The presumed opportunity is to add more parking to it.

There are several challenges to any plans for the site:

  1. The residents of Ellis Place, just north of the Fox parking lot, probably don’t want a multi-storey anything across the street—a narrow street at that.
  1. There is a McDonald’s restaurant right in the middle of the southern part of the site, and it isn’t going anywhere (despite a daffy $ 6 million proposal to move it years ago).
  1. There are more residences on the corner of Pomona Ave. and Ellis Place that would be impacted by traffic and oversized buildings.
  1. More cars entering and exiting the developed sites will further stress the traffic on the corner of Chapman Ave. and Harbor Blvd., as well as Pomona Ave. , which borders Fullerton Union High School.

The four development alternatives presented in the plan are:

  1. A parking structure on the big rectangular part of the L-shaped parking lot south of Ellis Place.
  1. A parking structure plus a mixed use, two and one half-storey development on the Triangle site and a two-storey office building, residential, and/or mixed use building on the Pomona site.
  1. A residential condo over a parking structure on the big lot.
  1. An eight screen movie theater with retail on Harbor and a parking structure.

Each proposal includes a financial breakdown explaining how much it would cost the city, as well as how much each would generate. Without going into each one now, we’ll summarize by noting that the parking structure alone proposal would cost the city $ 1 million in additional funds, while the others would be expected to pay for themselves, so some degree over time. Most noteworthy is the scheme to sell off the two smaller project areas for oddly identical sums to provide income to the city.

Following are the usual bulletin board pages of images of buildings and built environments developers include to suggest what they are proposing.

If you cannot attend the meeting, City of Fullerton Senior Planner Matt Foulkes invites you to send him an email with the subject line “Fox Block Development Plan – Public Comments.” Send them to this address: MattF@ci.fullerton.ca.us

More later…

Two Fullerton City Councilmembers speaking about the closed Hunt Branch Library on August 15, 2017:

“With a partnership with some local groups, non-profits, we might be able to keep it as an asset and make it available to the public.” — Jesus Silva

“I favor selling it.” — Doug Chaffee

 

Matthew Leslie

The Hunt Branch of the Fullerton Public Library became the topic of a brief discussion by members of the Fullerton City Council last Tuesday night during a budget update from City Manager Ken Domer. Noting a line in the budget about the below market rate currently paid by mega-church Grace Ministries International (GMI) to lease the property, located adjacent to their church, Councilmember Jesus Silva asked for a workshop to discuss opportunities in which local non-profits might use the closed library to benefit the community instead.

“I know we don’t have the funding to operate it ourselves, the city,” Mr. Silva said, “but maybe with a partnership with some local groups, non-profits, we might be able to keep it as an asset and make it available to the public.”

Mr. Silva’s suggestion that the landmark structure donated to the city by Norton Simon in 1962 might once again be made available to the public was too much for Mayor pro tem Doug Chaffee, who immediately responded by saying that there was no need for such a workshop, and “I favor selling it.”

Hunt Register

The Hunt Branch Library, given to Fullerton by Norton Simon in 1962, now leased to a neighboring megachurch for private use for less than the cost of a two bedroom apartment. Image from OC Register, used without permission.

The Hunt Branch Library, is a mid-century modernist gem designed by world famous architect William Pereira. It was operated as a branch of the Fullerton Public Library for five decades, serving generations of Fullertonians, until successive city councils began routinely underfunding it.

Following budget cutbacks that led to the library being mostly closed all for but two days a week, the facility was closed entirely in 2013 because library staff felt unsafe due to the presence of a sizable homeless camp that developed (enabled by the city who provided portable toilets and regular visits from the four Fullerton Police Homeless Liaison Officers) along the railroad tracks directly behind it. Not long after its closure, the council approved a month-to-month lease of the 4,500 square foot library and the surrounding property to GMI for $1,500.00 per month—less than the cost of a two bedroom apartment in Fullerton. No competitive bids were sought by the city in advance of this agreement.

GMI and the Hunt Library

Left to right: GMI’s 2008 sanctuary building, Norton Simon’s Hunt office building, the Hunt Library.

Four years later, the Hunt Branch is still closed to the public and is still being leased far below market value, but the homeless camp that was the stated cause for its closure has long since been removed by the city–“cleaned out” so that an agreement to lease the property could be approved by the council.

Meanwhile, the city council has rejected requests from the public to consider appropriate funding to the Fullerton Public Library to enable the operation of the Hunt as a second library branch for a city of 140,000 people.  Awaiting a budget for the branch, the Fullerton Public Library Board of Trustees has held off on presenting a long term plan that would define unique uses to complement the Main Library branch while also serving the southwest quadrant of the city as a library resource.

Now more than half century old, the Hunt Library is a distinctive example of mid-20th century modern architecture, but, alarmingly, enjoys absolutely no historical protections against being significantly altered or razed.  When the city council voted in 2013 to authorize then City Manager Joe Felz to commence formal negotiations with Grace Ministries to temporarily lease the Hunt Branch, the council also unanimously approved supporting an application by local non-profit Fullerton Heritage to place the Hunt Branch building on the National Registry of Historic Places. To date, no such listing has taken place, reportedly because of complications arising from the attempt to concurrently list Norton Simon’s Hunt office building, located adjacent to the library, and also designed by Pereira. (GMI purchased the Hunt office property several years ago, adding a large contemporary structure on the west side of the site that dwarfs the original office building.)

The prospect of selling off the Hunt Library might be attractive to anyone hoping to partially stave off the looming financial deficiencies facing Fullerton in the next five years, as reported by staff during the city’s 2017-2018 budget hearings. However, one has to wonder just how much money Doug Chaffee thinks the city can get for a building that is so devalued by this council that they rent it monthly for a mere $ 1,500.00.

The Hunt’s value might increase dramatically, however, if none of the promised historical protections were delivered, allowing a new owner to tear it down and use the property for something else entirely. With nothing to legally prevent the building from being razed or significantly altered, a much larger and different structure might be built on the sight.

If Doug Chaffee has his way, and the Hunt Branch Library is sold, the public will lose not only a valued public library in an underserved part of the city, but also a priceless part of the Fullerton’s history, with nothing in place to protect a unique building that once showcased sculpture by Giacometti and Rodin, and served as an emblem of commitment to a community and it’s future.

huntbranch

The Hunt Branch Library once served Fullerton’s families, but is now a hostage to the city’s impending budget shortfall.

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