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After Project Denial, Ratkovich Sues City Of Alhambra

The existing campus at Ratkovich's The Alhambra.

The Ratkovich Co. spent four years working to gain approvals for a major project in the San Gabriel Valley. After those approvals were denied, the developer is taking legal action.

Ratkovich is suing the city of Alhambra under the Housing Accountability Act for denying The Villages at the Alhambra project, a proposed residential redevelopment of 21 acres at Ratkovich’s existing 1M SF office property.

“The Villages complied with all applicable zoning and development standards and was much less dense than what was allowed under existing zoning,” the developer said in a statement

The housing project is the largest to "seek relief under the Housing Accountability Act" after being denied, the company said. 

A representative from the city of Alhambra did not immediately respond to Bisnow’s request for comment. 

“Cities, of course, are going to be allowed to set their own zoning and decide where and under what circumstances they’re going to allow housing. But the legislature and the courts are going to hold their feet to the fire in asking them to please approve the housing that they have put in their plans,” Holland & Knight partner Daniel Golub told Bisnow

Golub is not involved in the Ratkovich case, but he has worked on a number of cases that deal with violations of the Housing Accountability Act.

The 40-year-old Housing Accountability Act limits the ways governments can restrict new housing development. Under the act, cities have to approve housing projects that comply with their own "objective" zoning and general plan standards.

Golub has seen more of these cases in the last few years, which he attributes in part to the increasing seriousness and visibility of the state’s housing crisis. 

“I think you’re going to see more and more courts and certainly the state legislature really looking critically at local governments trying to say no through the ad hoc approval process instead of the zoning process,” Golub said. 

Ratkovich says that the goal of the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, is to compel the city to approve the project, which would bring 230 for-sale units and 560 rentals to The Alhambra. 

The Alhambra City Council unanimously denied the project in October, the Pasadena Star-News reported. Reasons cited by city decision-makers include the missed opportunity for more affordable housing in the project, which at least one official said was the city’s most urgent need. 

Public commenters were worried about the traffic the project would generate, the Star-News reported. Many also had environmental concerns, as the property on Fremont Avenue is a federal Superfund site, requiring the removal or remediation of hazardous materials before residential uses can be built.  

“I think it’s just a combination of a lot of different factors,” Vice Mayor Jeff Maloney said at the meeting the final vote was held.

The vote against the project was not seen as the end of the road for the development by city officials. 

“There’s kind of a number of directions that they could go,” Alhambra City Council Member Sasha Renee Perez told the Star-News in October. “They could resubmit an application and try to address the concerns that the residents had brought up, as well as the concerns the council had brought up.” 

Perez also suggested that the developer could file a lawsuit.