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Light at the End of the Tunnel for Station Square Transit Village?

Construction on Monrovia's massive Station Square Transit Village looks poised to begin next year, though property owners in its path are reluctant to leave.

Directly north of a car wash and recycling center on Duarte Road lie train tracks and the abandoned Monrovia Train Depot, and just beyond that sits an empty dirt lot fenced off with razor wire.

A sign posted near the depot is the only indicator of the grand plans the city has for that deserted swath of land and the homes and businesses adjacent to it. And those plans may finally be realized if the region's most important rail project, the Gold Line Foothill Extension, continues to progress.

The lot and surrounding properties south of the 210 Freeway, west of Myrtle Avenue, north of Duarte Road and east of Magnolia Avenue will be the site of the first two phases of the Station Square Transit Village, a massive mixed-use development that has been in the works for a decade.

Mayor Mary Ann Lutz said the site is the "perfect location" for the huge mixed-use development, both because it will be incorporated with the Gold Line and because that area has traditionally been neglected by redevelopment projects.

"The majority of our city has been really improved using redevelopment," Lutz said. "The southern part of our city, south of our freeway, has never had the benefit of that yet. It's time to bring the success of Monrovia to the southern part of the community."

With all the stars that must align for the Gold Line Foothill Extension to materialize, the progress of Station Square has hinged on factors too numerous to count. But it now appears Monrovia will build a maintenance yard in city limits to expedite the light rail project, which will extend the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa in the first stage of the expansion.

The Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority will determine in December whether or not to build the rail yard in Monrovia. If that project is approved, work on the extension itself could begin next summer.

With a relatively firm timetable in place for the Foothill Extension, the city and developers could finally begin work on the 80-acre Station Square project, a hub of residential and commercial buildings, offices, restaurants and hotels designed to complement Monrovia's Gold Line station.

One piece of the project is already underway. The city's redevelopment agency currently awaits word on an application it filed for a $995,000 sustainability grant it would put toward an open space component to Station Square.

The open space piece, which would cost a total of $1.5 million, would include pedestrian and biking trails that would run just north of the train tracks, beginning near Primrose Avenue, according to Heather Maloney, a senior staff analyst for the city's public works department.

"That portion of the city unfortunately doesn't have a lot of recreational opportunities, and one of our goals is to get some recreation opportunities into that part of the community," Maloney said.

Underneath the system of trails, an underground reservoir would be used to treat storm water. The city expects to hear back about its grant application in December, Maloney said.

If everything goes according to plan, construction on the open space component would begin next summer, along with a $30 million, 300-unit apartment complex in what comprises the first phase of the Station Square project.

The apartment complex would be situated in the southwest corner of Pomona and Primrose Avenues, City Manager Scott Ochoa said.

But property owners who currently live in that area aren't eager to pack up their things and leave.

In order for local developer Samuelson & Fetter to begin building the first phase, the city will have to raze 11 residential homes. The city has purchased two of the homes already and has deals in place with the other nine home owners, Ochoa said.

Frank Licher, 31, lives in one of the homes on the 200 block of Evergreen Avenue that the city has agreed to buy. The home is owned by his grandfather's trust, and his family has decided to sell it to the city for about $400,000.

"My grandfather has owned this house since 1951," Licher said. "Thank God he's not alive because he wouldn't have sold it."

Licher believes his family could have gotten several hundred thousand dollars more for the property once the real estate market improves, but Ochoa said the city is paying well above market value for the homes.

After all, the only incentive for residential owners to leave is to receive more money from the city than the property is worth because cities can no longer use eminent domain to take control of residential properties for development projects, Ochoa said.

Local businessman Hugh Henderson was also upset that Station Square would eventually force him to relocate his uniform supply company from the condominium space he owns in a business park on the 100 block of West Pomona Avenue.

Henderson has owned the space for 12 years and said the city has spent the last few years pressuring him and the other tenants in the 28-unit building to leave.

"The city's been threatening for about five or six years that they're going to heave us out of here," Henderson said. "This is my property. If someone comes to your property and says you have to get out, you'd be unhappy, too."

Henderson said he's resigned to selling to the city eventually, primarily because no other buyer would pay for property that could be seized under eminent domain.

"At this point, the only place I could sell it to would be the city, and I'm at their mercy for what they're willing to give me," Henderson said. "Who else would be willing to buy it?"

Henderson conceded that he believes Station Square is something the city needs and said that he would probably feel different about the project if he were not "right in the bullseye of the thing."

Ochoa said the city owns a similar condominium complex on Magnolia and Chestnut Avenues that it has offered as a relocation site to some business owners. The city has worked to negotiate deals with the business owners to avoid using eminent domain, which Ochoa described as a costly process.

"Our goal is to try and negotiate terms with everybody because eminent domain is quite expensive," Ochoa said.

The city must still secure deals with about a dozen more property owners before it could move on to phase two of Station Square, which wouldn't begin until the first phase is complete.

The city wants the first phase to be finished in time for the Gold Line's anticipated arrival in 2014. Now city leaders must wait to see if the Metropolitan Transit Authority keeps up its end of the bargain.

"Right now all eyes are on Gold Line to see what they do because what they do either locks or unlocks what we do with Station Square," Ochoa said.

Tom Adams October 29, 2010 at 06:21 PM
I think the comment that Southern Monrovia has never benefited from redevelopment misses the mark. The business park around Home Depot has removed blight and brought needed jobs to the area. New homes, affordable homes at Duarte Road and California and again at Duarte Road and Magnolia have not only removed blight but brought needed affordable homes to the area. Monrovia has always looked at the entire city and never treated one area over another. There has always been a plan in place, a plan to improve all areas of Monrovia and I can tell you that after looking at Monrovia for my entire life, everyone has benefited.
Nathan McIntire October 29, 2010 at 06:30 PM
Thanks for writing Tom. Maybe the mayor means this in terms of scope, as I imagine this is the biggest redevelopment project undertaken in the southern part of the city.
Ken November 09, 2010 at 08:00 PM
Nathan, great article. You really did your homework. I anticipate that the development of the Gold Line will really enhance the property values around the stations. It has so far in Pasadena.
Nathan McIntire November 09, 2010 at 09:17 PM
Thanks Ken. Obviously the progress of the Gold Line is a huge story in this town and one that's been neglected. We're going to do our best to change that.

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