You'd almost have to be a reality TV writer in nearby Hollywood to come up with a plot line for a development challenge as extreme as the former Ambassador College site in Pasadena, Calif.

The scene: A 17-acre site along Pasadena's famed Millionaire's Row, replete with eight historic mansions, elaborate gardens, and 650 majestic trees.

The cast: Developer Dorn Platz, Standard Pacific Homes, Sunrise Senior Living, and nearly a dozen groups of Pasadena residents who could easily be described as hyper-activists, super vigilant to change.

The challenge: Find a way to profitably develop the land while preserving the site's historic features and pacifying the locals.

The solution (pending city approval): Carefully shoehorn 70 high-end town-homes and condominiums, as well as 200 condos for seniors attached to a 44-bed assisted living facility set among the trees and around the gardens and mansions, and make everything blend as seamlessly as possible.

THIS OLD HOUSE: The Merritt Mansion is one of five that would be preserved under the proposed plan to redevelop the former Ambassador College site. Dorn Platz, in partnership with Standard Pacific and Sunrise Senior Living, saw value, aesthetically, historically, and politically, in treading lightly on the property. “It's one of the most beautiful sites in the San Gabriel Valley,” says Kevin Maguire of Dorn Platz. “It's got beautiful open spaces, 100-year-old trees, mansions on the property that are significant. … The challenges are, how do you pay for the site and how do you make the site work?”

Not to mention how do you get the famously change-averse local activists to buy into your development plan? An earlier developer who planned to scrap the site and start new, moved on after running into a buzz saw of opposition.

So it was clear from the beginning to Dorn Platz and its partners that they would need to include local activists in the planning processes from the start to have any chance at success.

COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION “We have been working with all the stakeholders of the project to ensure that each entity's interests are taken into consideration,” says Steve Ross, director of planning for Standard Pacific's Los Angeles division. The developers even hired a community outreach consultant, long-time Pasadena resident Margaret McAustin, to help work with the locals.

“For a year and a half, we have convened neighborhood meetings every month with community stakeholders,” McAustin says. “We have discussed the project in greater detail than you would get from reading the paper. They have been able to influence the design and react to the location of buildings.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.