Council OKs Los Arboles
by Cheryl Gilman
Democracy in action could be seen at Tuesday night's City
Council meeting. Impassioned parties on both sides of the Los
Arboles project overflowed city chambers.
At issue were the approval of the architectural review and environmental
impact report of the 23 condominiums planned for South Montgomery
Street. The Citizens to Preserve the Ojai and the Environmental
Coalition and allies opposed the construction of the 23 units,
maintaining the project will increase traffic, pollution, and
noise and put Ojai on the way to becoming another Camarillo of
Residents and merchants living and working near the proposed
site enthusiastically supported Los Arboles.They maintained that
it would increase property value; transform a blighted area into
a beautiful neighborhood; extend the retail district of downtown
Ojai; allow for more live/work housing; enable those who live
there, especially seniors, walking access to town services.
This project has been in development, in public hearings, before
the Planning Commission, the
City Council and in court for more than two years.
The Planning Commission approved Lance Smigel's proposal for
23 townhouse units, Los Arboles, on the east and west side of
South Montgomery Street in October 2000, and its Environmental
Impact Report in December 2001. The Citizens to Preserve the
Ojai appealed this decision to the City Council - which upheld
the approval after a public hearing. The CPO then filed a lawsuit
regarding the council's decision. At the request of the CPO,
Smigel returned all the permits the City Council had approved
and agreed to modifying his plans, preparing a new EIR (subsequent
SEIR) and architectural review.
An environmental impact report is an analysis - done by a third
party - to determine the effects that any new construction will
have on the environment in that area both short and long term.
And if there is an impact, what measures can be taken to diminish
that hazard, would also be part of the EIR. The report examines
aesthetics, agricultural resources, air quality, geology and
soils, recreation, hazards and hazardous materials, public services,
traffic, air, noise and water quality.
Consultant John Jostes, of Interact Environmental Planning and
Management, was the author of the original EIR and SEIR. The
city retained Jostes as the independent party to do the assessment.
Jostes reported, "After we reviewed the original draft,
it went to a public review that I could only characterize as
vigorous and passionate. We have a public that is using this
process and public participation is key here."
Jostes explained that he wrote the new SEIR after Smigel, architect
Mark Whitman and landscape architect Tom Bostrom revised the
project to change the separation between the buildings and include
additional storefront/residence structures facing Montgomery
Hooper said, "While the developmental plans have not changed
since last reviewed, there have been substantial changes to the
project description to warrant a new EIR."
Jostes reported that while traffic and circulation issues are
areas of potentially significant effects over the long term,
they are "capable of being mitigated by a van pool program
that Smigel will fund and payment of peak-hour trip mitigation
Councilmember Sue Horgan said, "It's a very theoretical
type of cumulative impact if all the building allowed for in
the Housing Element is carried out."
Hooper said, "The anticipated benefits of this project include
reduced auto dependence, increased use of alternative modes of
transportation and better use of existing infrastructure through
more compact form of development (instead of sprawl).
When asked to address the council on the current Los Arboles
plans, Smigel said, "I'll try to make this as painless as
possible. I maintain that the 29 multifamily dwellings that had
been on that site before this project began had far more cars
there then the 23 units planned will have.
Architects Whitman and Bostrom presented PowerPoint slides of
the plans. Whitman said, "We're trying to bring the downtown
architecture into this area. We wanted to work with the community
and made significant changes to the 2000 plans."
Ivor Benci-Woodward, president of the CPO, said, "The CPO
suggests an alternative to the proposed project - an environmentally
superior alternative which reduces the number of units to 10,
and the requirement of at least 50 percent of the units be true
live/work mixed use and that some affordable housing be included."
Russ Baggerly, President of the Environmental Coalition, agreed.
Leonard Klaif said, "I am not a member of the CPO, never
have been and never will be. But the CPO supports the preservation
of Ojai; without them there would be nothing to preserve."
Resident Richard Keit said, "We are fortunate to have organized
groups of citizens looking out for the well-being of our community,
but sometimes they need to be reminded that they are not always
the voice of the people and that they are not our elected officials.
Fortunately for Ojai, and not so fortunate for the Los Arboles
team, at this time there is so little threat to our small town
character from developers, that our environmental groups can
afford to obsess over the precise scale of a few beautiful homes
to be built in an historically blighted area of downtown."
Andy Belnap said, " Los Arboles allows people to live near
services. It's smart planning and good for Libbey Park to have
more people near the park."
Joan Kemper agreed and added, "The developer has addressed
almost everything you (the City Council) asked for."
Celeste Matesevac said, "This project will add substance
to South Montgomery Street. The more you live in the heart of
Ojai, the less you use your car."
Artist William Boulting added, "There's only one block of
retail in Ojai. South Montgomery is the only block where prime
retail can go. I'm looking forward to moving my studio there."
Artist Leslie Clark, owner of Nomad Gallery, said, "This
project will set the tone for Ojai, and what a magnificent tone.
It will start a flow of walking in the downtown."
Former Community Development Director Bill Prince, who recently
took a position with the city of Santa Barbara, had been deeply
involved with the Los Arboles project before he left in December
2001. He came to the council meeting to add support and insight.
He said, "You have to have courage to support any new development
in Ojai. Mr. Libbey had to have courage to propose a radical
departure from western storefronts. You must reward risk-taking
by those willing to make high quality contributions to the built
environment. It would be far better than stagnation. And you
need to discourage those who would abuse CEQA to suppress desirable
developments, especially when they replace previous undesirable
development on that site."
Councilmember Joe DeVito said, "This has not been an easy
process. It's been lengthy; it's been costly. We've already expended
90 percent of our budget on attorneys' fees on this issue. One
of the things that you cannot complain about with this council
is that you will not be heard. "
Commissioner David Bury asked Smigel what would be done about
the noise and cultural/sports events that are held in the park
- such as the Music and Shakespeare festivals and the Tennis
Tournament. Smigel said, "The buildings materials are insulated
to the outside as well as the inside."
Councilmember Ray Hanstad said, "I support the project because
of the residents it will attract. We need to create economic
and housing diversity in the downtown area."
Councilmember David Bury said, "It's not perfect but it
does satisfy the requirements and encourages pedestrian access.
The SEIR strengthened the project; and I like that it's no longer
a gated community but an open one with access to the park."
The City Council approved the Los Arboles project.
City Manager Dan Singer reported on the city mid-year budget.
He said, "Significant attorney expenses for the Los Arboles
project exceeded the $75,000, and the city was served today with
another suit by the CPO on the housing element which the citizens
of Ojai must pay for.
"The mid-year budget analysis indicates that the 2001-2002
budget appears to be below projections for both revenues and
expenditures. Most importantly, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and
the current economic recession may have begun to show its impacts
on revenues for the city.
"At mid-year, General Fund revenues were 45% of budget,
or $2.5 million versus a budget of $5.5 million. Revenues for
all funds combined, not including Redevelopment, were $2.8 million,
or 36% of budget. Should the current trend in revenues continue
or even worsen, the city could finish the fiscal year with a
shortfall of $500,000 or more. This, of course, would have a
significant effect on future city projects or services.
"Our best defense against financial distress remains the
development of a strong and stable local economic base, in particular
visitor-serving facilities and services."
Mayor David Olsen's announcement of appointments to city boards
and commissions completed the evening's session. Olsen approved
the re-appointment of Vina June Milburn as Resident Commissioner
on the Area Housing Authority Board. He also announced that he
has appointed Inez Arci as the new Planning Commissioner to take
David Greenberg's seat that has been vacant since last November.
In addition, Kathy Richards will be the new ,,,,,,,,,,,,,, ,
The next City Council meeting will be held in City Chambers on
Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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