Pasadena, California

Pasadena, population 133,936 (2000), is located between the City of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Mountains. It has a tradition of planning excellence, a reputation for quality development and a wealth of historically-significant buildings.

The Great Lawn on the former campus of Ambassador College was preserved when the Ambassador West receiving project took advantage of the TDR component within Pasadena’s West Gateway Specific Plan.

Beyond Takings and Givings, published in 2003, reported on the City’s first TDR program, which was adopted in 1985 as part of Pasadena’s Central District Regulations and Urban Design Plan. These regulations established more restrictive height and density limits for properties in downtown Pasadena. TDR was incorporated into these ordinances as a means of allowing property owners some compensation for the reductions in development potential created by the new codes. In addition, TDR was included to encourage the preservation of historic properties.

Under the 1985 regulations, owners of property in the Central District who acted before 1991 could transfer unused development rights measured as the difference between the actual volume of the building in question and the building volume allowed under the code which was in existence prior to the 1985 amendments. After 1991, a second TDR mechanism remained in effect allowing any property owner who did not want to use the density limits provided under the new code to transfer development rights to designated receiver sites. In this case, the transferable development rights were calculated as the difference between the actual size of the existing building and the density limits of the amendments adopted in 1985. Three subareas of the Central District were designated as receiving sites. In addition, transfers could be made between properties in the same subarea. Transfers could not be made into the Old Pasadena subarea or to properties within a designated view corridor. The code also contained provisions for a Large Site Preservation Transfer, which allowed transfers between preservation sites and other parcels within a development site of at least three acres. Generally, receiving sites were allowed up to 25 percent more building volume (cubic feet) than that allowed under the base zoning in order to accommodate development rights transferred from a sending site. However, under the Large Site Preservation Transfer option, the receiving portion of the site could not increase more than 20 percent beyond the volume allowed under base zoning. Transfers had to be approved if the project was code compliant. Consequently, the transfer aspect of a project was not subject to environmental review.

The 1985 TDR program succeeded in preserving a 1920s building that originally housed a mortuary and was designated as a contributing structure in Pasadena’s downtown historic district. Under the zoning code for this area, the former mortuary had 558,000 cubic feet of unused development rights which were transferred to build a 13-story office known as the Pasadena Gateway Project located near a freeway on/off ramp. In a second TDR project, 250,000 cubic feet of unused development rights were transferred to the Gateway Project from the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, an architecturally-significant building located on Pasadena’s main thoroughfare, Colorado Boulevard. Despite these examples, the 1985 TDR program saw relatively few transfers partly because Pasadena offered other ways of exceeding the density allowed by the base zoning including variances, planned development approvals and density bonuses granted for providing desirable design elements. In addition, a growth management initiative in effect during the late 1980s and early 1990s placed a cap on yearly development, possibly reducing the demand for transferred density.

In 2005, Pasadena adopted an entirely new zoning code which eliminated the code section containing the 1985 TDR provisions. However, Pasadena still includes TDR in its West Gateway Specific Plan, adopted by the City in 1998 for the area roughly bounded by St. John, Del Mar, Orange Grove and the 134 Freeway. This specific plan was intended to promote the enhancement of the Orange Grove/Colorado intersection as the City’s symbolic western gateway and to facilitate preservation of historic structures and beloved open spaces, especially those on the campus once entirely owned by Worldwide Church of God, the former site of Ambassador College.

Sending and receiving sites can be anywhere within the West Gateway Specific Plan area. The owner of the donor site must record a covenant documenting the transfer of density. The transfer can be approved by the Zoning Administrator as long as the receiving site project meets height, setback and other development regulations despite the transferred density. Residential density can be converted to non-residential floor area and, conversely, non-residential floor area can be converted to residential density.

The TDR program in the West Gateway Specific Plan was used in the approval of a large project named Ambassador West. According to Pasadena City Planning Department staff, through the TDR mechanism, Ambassador West preserved a historic residence at 359 West Del Mar Avenue and four open space features within the former Ambassador College campus: the Great Lawn in front of Ambassador Auditorium (a famous concert venue now owned by Harvest Rock Church), Terrace Walk (a pedestrian path), Fowler Garden and Italian Garden.