With a $10 million offer recently rejected by the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center to prevent the sale and development of some of the center’s open space in northern Sierra Madre, a spokesman for the passionists said it was for good reason.
Cameron Thornton, who works with the passionists, said while the land in question is valued around at least $20 million – and as high as $40 million – he is not sure the group the Coalition to Save Mater Dolorosa could have come through with its plan.
And with the recent failure of Measure UUT – the user utility tax extension – in this month’s municipal election, Thornton said he felt Sierra Madre voters weren’t going to approve the coalition’s proposal.
“They thought they could make a $10 million parcel tax work,” Thornton said. “What they found out was !K $10 million would cost a minimum of $155 to $165 per parcel over a 30-year time frame.
“I think they understood once they projected it and did the math that it just wasn’t viable.”
Thornton said the passionists have for years tried to save the land themselves so they wouldn’t have to sell it.
“We tried every way you can imagine to come up with the money needed,” he said. “We for seven or so years have been looking at a number of possibilities. We recognize the sacredness of that land.”
He added the group even tried a grass-roots effort, but to no avail.
“We’ve reached out for 18 to 24 months to Catholic donors and other groups to raise the money and we couldn’t do it,” he said. “That leads us to where we are today.”
Thornton said any developer that is chosen will need to be able to work with the neighbors and residents of Sierra Madre.
“What we’re looking for in a development partner is someone who’s sensitive to the needs of the neighbors and someone who is willing to reach out as much as possible,” he said. “We expect the developer to be a good neighbor that fits in.”
The reason land needs to be sold is to pay for the medical care of the aging passionists, Thornton said.
“We’re taking care of our family,” he said. “The passionists are our family. We’re doing what any other family would do. We’re making sure we have sufficient funds to take care of them.”
Matt Bryant of the coalition said he was hoping no land would be developed and the grounds of the center would remain in the status quo.
“We wanted to preserve the open space,” Bryant said. “We tried to create a win-win solution. Unfortunately, we failed. We made them a substantial proposal !K We thought it was a good offer. We could have gone up to $15 million, perhaps. But they have gone in the direction of a developer.”
Bryant added now the group has to change its gears and monitor the development to make sure it doesn’t encroach on the existing community.
“The concern that we have now is you have to maximize what goes on up there, the size of the houses, the number of houses,” he said. “You’re talking about one of the largest housing projects Sierra Madre has seen in decades. We’re very concerned about it.”
(Shel Segal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be followed via Twitter @segallanded.)
-Story by Shel Segal