Thursday, June 19, 2008

St. Joseph's Gets Nod For Expansion

MAC supports project to add 147 new beds to retirement center

By Sondra Murphy
St. Joseph’s Health & Retirement Center is nearer to upgrading and expanding its facilities. Representatives of the center appeared before the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council Monday seeking to create structures to accommodate 147 new beds and demolish its existing 60-bed skilled nursing facility.
The council supported the project, which next moves on to the county’s Planning Division.
St. Joseph’s is located on East Ojai Avenue between Gorham and Carne roads on two parcels totaling less than 15 acres and is zoned as “rural residential” by the country’s general plan and land use designation. The Planning Division issued a negative declaration last month, meaning the proposed project would have no significant effect on the environment.
During the meeting, architect Bruce MacPherson presented plans to MAC council members detailing the construction of one 12-bed assisted living facility, a two-story, 59-bed assisted living facility, a two-story, 58-bed skilled nursing facility and a 30-bed independent living facility.
While the upgrade will require the removal of some of the citrus orchard, “the orange trees between our facility and the main highway will not be taken out,” said MacPherson. “Part of the appeal of the site is the rural setting.”
“Will that make it less commercially sound?” asked council member Terry Wright.
“We have not heard from the people who lease the trees that this would be a problem,” said MacPherson.
St. Joseph’s Brother Ignatius Sudol said the current facility was built in 1960 to house the brothers who came to serve at the site. Besides more space for residents, the new design includes low-level lighting of pathways, allows for more natural light indoors and uses recycled water for some of its landscaping needs. The swimming pool will be removed.
“I’m a little concerned about ingress and egress,” said council member Russ Baggerly. “The amount of traffic can be high sometimes.” MAC advisor Steve Offerman of Supervisor Bennett’s office responded that a left-hand turn lane for eastbound drivers entering the property is also included in the plans, but Baggerly said he would liked to have seen the addition of a merge lane for westbound traffic entering or exiting the facility.
Included with St. Joseph’s plans was a 2008 Ventura County Public Works traffic study concluding less than one additional afternoon peak hour trip would be generated by the project. A 2004 study by Associated Transportation Engineers estimated the addition of one morning peak hour trip and the loss of one afternoon peak hour trip.
Council member Mike Zielsdorf also noted changes to St. Joseph’s access road. “It’s not intended to be a grand entry,” said MacPherson. “It’s been widened up to make it more user-friendly, but not so much to make it out of character with what is out there.”
Some tree removal will be needed to widen the road, as well as to construct the new buildings. “Part of the rural feeling is that you don’t even know that buildings are out there,” Zeilsdorf said. “If you start to see buildings peeking up through the trees, it might take away from the rural feeling.” The highest point of the remodeled facilities is 34 feet.
“Our goal is not necessarily to change the character of what is out there, but to make it a more viable facility,” said MacPherson. He said it is proposed for the new structures to have extended metal roofs of olive green, “pretty consistent with all the buildings we’ll be putting out there.”
Council member Jeff Ketelsen voiced concerns about how the reduction of staff by eight positions might impact working conditions. MacPherson referenced plans to modernize the kitchen facilities during the upgrade, which is expected to increase staff efficiency. “Hopefully, with the assisted living, we’ll have more economy of scale,” said Sudol.

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