Thursday, December 6, 2007

Trees Cause Delay In Condo Project Permit

Four-unit high-end project planned for lots next to Los Arboles

By Nao Braverman
The Ojai Planning Commission made sure to take care of the city’s cherished trees at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
Another large and costly condominium complex proposal, adjacent to the Los Arboles Townhomes and south of the Art Center, was continued until January for the sake of endangered trees near the property.
Lance and Scott Smigel proposed to to demolish two single-family homes to make room for the construction of two expansive two-unit Craftsman-style condominiums at 119 and 201 S. Montgomery St.
Being in the Village Mixed Use zone, one of the two units in one building is designed as a live-work structure with one first floor 957 square foot area for commercial use and a 1,156-square-foot residential area above. The other unit in the building is 2,408 square-feet of entirely residential space. The second building has two residential units, one of 2,435 square feet and another with 2,959 square feet.
The project was initially being considered as an eight-unit affordable housing complex. However, architect Marc Whitman told the commission that the neighboring Los Arboles owners said they didn’t want low-income residents right next to them but would prefer a more high-end development.
In addition, the city didn’t have money to help finance low-income housing. Though commissioners said they would prefer smaller units, the General Plan’s maximum density regulations only allow for four units in that zone. This was the only way for the developers to make a reasonable profit on the property, said Whitman.
“If the only thing we can do to make money off our property is make million-dollar condominiums, then we are going to continue building more and more million-dollar condos and property value is going to increase so much that it will truly be impossible to build anything else,” said Ojai resident Leonard Klaif. “We have to stop it soon or we are going to turn into a Westlake Village.”
Commissioner John Mirk agreed.
“I’m pleased to see that you are going with Craftsman style, but I have to vote against it,” he said. “There are way too many of these massive expensive condominium projects and it might be great for the developers but I don’t see it doing much for our town.”
But Commissioner Troy Becker objected, saying that it wasn’t fair to reject projects on such a premise, unless the General Plan is amended to allow for more density.
“The Smigels would love to put more smaller, possible affordable units there, but there is nothing in the General Plan that allows them to do it.”
Planning Chair Tucker Adams agreed that the General Plan would first have to be amended to accommodate developments that were more dense, and thus more affordable.
Los Arboles resident Paulette Whiting had a more applicable objection, however, saying that it could endanger a 100-year-old redwood tree that had surface roots about 5 feet from the development, as well as a nearby coastal live oak. Though local arborist Paul Rogers said that the project would not be as likely to harm the two trees on Los Arboles property, an independent arborist, hired by Whiting, said that the project would likely harm the trees whether its location was shifted or not.
The nearby oak tree was appraised at $11,303 and the redwood tree appraised at $8,502.
Los Arboles resident Debbie Otto, though she supported the project and praised its architecture, raised the concern that if any of the oak’s branches were to fall on the new development, then Los Arboles homeowners might be held liable.
Commissioners asked the Smigels to address the the issue of protecting Ojai’s cherished trees more aggressively and continued the discussion until Jan 16.
The establishment of Theater 150’s performance venue and classroom facility at 316 E. Matilija St., in the building which was formerly Clausens Funeral Home, was approved with little discussion. Artistic director Chris Nottoli told commissioners that the small white Victorian house on the property would continue to be used as a residence. The only changes to the building would be to put in a handicapped bathroom, he said.
“The last place we had could only accommodate one thing at a time,” he said. “We could make dinner, hold a class or have a show. This place can accommodate a number of things and we can do them all at once ... I can’t think of any better use of the space for the community, other than a funeral home but no one seems to be biting on that one.”
Commissioners agreed.
“I know you’re hoping for this one since you have a grand opening coming up.” said Adams. Theater 150’s first show at the new location opens today.
In other planning news commissioners approved the installation of a new pool at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa near the hotel’s Herb Garden Suites.
Council liaison Sue Horgan told commissioners that contrary to what Jennifer Moss wrote in the newspaper, there is no effort under way, that she is aware of, to create an ordinance against pasties.

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