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Zoning Issues Arise over Proposed PO Art Museum

After a Claremont City Council meeting on Apr. 12 that lasted until 1 a.m., the future of Pomona College’s proposed new art museum remains uncertain.

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In its 2015 Master Plan, Pomona proposed a new building on the western side of College Avenue between 2nd Street and Bonita Avenue. That site, owned by Pomona, is currently occupied by the Cottages and has been zoned by the city as a residential area since 2007, despite being categorized as an ‘Institutional’ space in the city’s 2006 General Plan.

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Plans for a new museum have been in the works since at least 2008, according to Kathleen Howe, the director of the Pomona College Museum of Art. 

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“We can’t meet conventional loan standards,” Howe said. “That inflects the kind of art we can borrow.”

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The existing art museum building lacks a fire suppression system or any humidity control, making it ineligible to host many traveling or loan exhibitions. The museum also lacks sufficient space for students, professors, or community members to study its permanent collection, part of which is currently housed in the basement of Bridges Auditorium.

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Multiple sites were considered for an expansion, Howe said, including the museum’s current location and the Seeley G. Mudd Building, but the proposed College Ave. location was the most promising.

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“For us, it’s an ideal site,” she said.

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But unless the zoning of the College Avenue parcel is changed to match the General Plan, the proposal cannot move forward.

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“It should have been rezoned in 2007,” said Brian Desatnik, Claremont’s director of community development. “I would describe it as an oversight.”

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The City Council voted 3 to 2 on Apr. 12 to change the zoning to match the General Plan, but because the city’s Planning Commission previously gave a negative recommendation to the proposal, a 4 to 1 supermajority would have been needed to pass the change, Desatnik explained. Now, a subcommittee of two City Council members and two members of the Planning Commission must reconsider the issue and make a written report before the May 24 council meeting.

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“There’s no guidelines for how this really works,” Desatnik said of the subcommittee’s deliberation process. “It’s an old provision in the code… It doesn’t get triggered very often.”

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Adam Starr PO ’18 attended the Apr. 12 meeting and spoke in favor of the college’s proposal. Starr, who is curating an exhibit for the art museum this summer, believes a new museum building would open up greater possibilities for student involvement.

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“The city’s zoning issue is not about students,” Starr said. Instead, the debate revolved largely around conceptions of the Claremont Village’s historical identity, and the idea of “college creep”—that is, expansion of the Claremont Colleges’ educational activities into the Village.

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Claremont mayor Sam Pedroza, Starr recalled, suggested a need for “a Mason-Dixon line” between the college and the town to prevent such “college creep.”

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In an interview with TSL, Pedroza said that his concern was keeping zoning law consistent with the historical bounds of the Village. The line between college and town, he said, “keeps moving into the village area.”

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“Historically, the Mason-Dixon line is a line defining north and south … defining which area belongs in which area,” Pedroza said. “I don’t see it as a barrier or a wall. I only mentioned it for the purposes of how we plan, not in the sense of a civil war.”

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Placing the art museum at the proposed site, Pedroza said, would “start blurring the line.”

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According to Desatnik, the subcommittee tasked with reviewing the proposal will publish their written report approximately a week before the May 24 City Council meeting. At that meeting, the council will again vote on the proposal, with only a three to two majority required to pass the zoning change.

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Starr said he plans to attend that meeting.

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“Hopefully it doesn’t go ‘til one,” he said.

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