Inn & Spa expansion approved
by C.A. Gilman
Once again, City Chambers were bursting with supporters for
the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa at Tuesday night's City Council
meeting when the council overwhelming approved the inn's expansion
plans. And also once again, Ivor Benci-Woodward, president of
the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai was the sole dissenter.
The Planning Commission had already overwhelmingly recommended
that the council approve the project at their meeting on Sept.
Robert Casias, Community Development director for the city of
Ojai, highlighted the importance of the work the city had done
concerning the inn's proposal. He said, "The city's project
staff was spearheaded by City Attorney Monte Widders and Katherine
Stone. Laura Bridely, the city's contract planner for the project,
prepared the staff report and supporting documents. John Jostes,
the city's environmental consultant, prepared the environmental
impact report." Scott Schell, traffic engineer, and Rachel
Tierney, consulting biologist, were also there to answer questions.
It was a repeat performance of the Sept. 30 planning meeting
where Thad Hyland, managing director of the inn, gave a PowerPoint
presentation of the renovation plans, marketing justification,
employment benefits, and economic impact
of the expansion. of the 79-year-old inn.
Hyland maintained that in order for the inn to remain competitive
and continue to attract clientele to Ojai, they were investing
more than $50 million in building renovations, landscaping and
additional native trees, traffic mitigation and conservational
He said, "We think this is one of the most stringent traffic
mitigation plans in the history of Ventura County." The
inn has offered carpooling and cycling incentives to its employees
Jostes reviewed the findings for the final EIR. He said, "The
applicant sent a letter that was responsive the environmental
complaints of the property, and the final EIR is responsive to
the project's requirement. We added greater clarity on how the
oak tree restoration would work, how to qualify wetlands and
traffic impacts so that the project has less than significant
Widders said of the development agreement, "The California
government code provides that an applicant in a city can enter
into an agreement with the city so that the city doesn't change
the rules during the completion of the project once the project
is approved - particularly if it goes on for any length of time.
In exchange the applicant provides the city with some substantial
benefits, e.g., economic and cultural and charitable. The inn
has had a substantial impact on the life of Ojai in all these
areas. It does provide that the city will reimburse the applicant
for soft costs during the development of the project not to exceed
$500,000. These soft costs include such things as environmental
impact reports, staff work, etc. The inn has spent much more
than that. The city requires that they (the city) receive back
all taxes lost during the inn's construction before any reimbursement
from the city can be made."
As this session was a public hearing, many of the audience came
prepared to talk.
Alan Rains, owner of Rains Department Store, said, "This
is a reminder that the Ojai Valley Inn is a major employer and
asset in our community. Their transit occupancy tax - bed tax
- is the single largest source of income to the city. This project
will add an additional $800,000 to 900,000 to the community.
The financial success of Ojai is closely linked with the financial
success of the inn."
Vince France, who served as the chief of police of Ojai and sheriff
of Ventura and was a on the board of the OUSD agreed. He said,
"OVI has been the city's biggest taxpayer since it was built,
but calls for service are nonexistent. They have donated tens
of thousands of dollars in stays for local charities. The OVI
and the city of Ojai need each other. The inn has supported the
city for the past seven decades, it is our turn to support the
Carl Huntsinger said, "The OVI actively supported the city
in defeating the Weldon Canyon dump by offering financial support
and introducing us to outstanding environmental legal, consultants
and scientists. Their studies provided the necessary information
to convince the Ventura County Board of Supervisors to defeat
the dump, 4 to 1."
Karianne Bracamonte, a 17-year employee of the inn and granddaughter
of Wesley C. Hickey, a founder of Hickey Brothers, the predecessor
to Rains, said, "Naturally, people have a hard time with
change. It seems easier sometimes to just keep things the same.
In this case, I don't think we have this option. This renovation
is very much needed for the inn to compete with its industry
peers. Business will less than remain the same unless these improvements
Benci-Woodward, representing the CPO (the proponents of the Traffic
Initiative Measure C), said, "The CPO has never taken issue
with the inn's expansion. However, you cannot approve this project
tonight without overriding the traffic impact. You are voting
tonight to impact a road (Hermosa Road where trucks to the inn
will be directed thereby avoiding Ojai Avenue) that has free
flow now to LOS F (gridlock). The gridlock level is one car away.
If you approve this project tonight you have to approve more
Attorney Stone commented, "There are no project specific
impacts. The only impact is a cumulative impact - if you look
at all the traffic that would occur if the city were to build
out to its maximum to the year 2050. The inn is not building
to maximum density - it is 85 percent open space. The cumulative
impact will not cause any roads to go to a lower level of service
and is consistent with your General Plan. We are recommending
approving 'Overriding Considerations' to protect the city in
the event of another lawsuit from the CPO."
Mayor Steve Olsen asked Scott Shell with Associated Standards
Engineers to comment on the gridlock raised by Benci-Woodward.
Shell said, "We'll be full with or without the inn when
we're at full build-out (in 2050) and regarding the Hermosa Street
intersection, that will be monitored by signals; the county has
required a bond be in place for signals when it is determined
that signals are needed. Highway 33/150 is a state highway and
Caltrans would make the ultimate decision."
Shell also noted that traffic would be reduced because there
would be fewer employees traveling on Ojai Avenue, guests don't
check in at peak hours, and the truck traffic will be restricted
to off-peak times.
Council member Sue Horgan said, "This project will ensure
the city's economic vitality for decades. The project will improve
traffic circulation and retain the majority of the property as
open space for the community will continue to support and compliment
Ojai's small-town character and the businesses downtown."
Olsen added, "I'm glad we have the opportunity to vote on
this project. If Measure C passes, we wouldn't even have the
opportunity to vote on this project."
The room thundered with applause as the council made their final
Dan Singer thanked everyone for their hard work and diligence
with the project. He also announced the Nov. 2 celebration of
the "non-election of Vince France and Steve Olsen."
Both France and Olsen are retiring after many years of active
community involvement. Everyone is invited to the celebration
and can call the City Hall for that information.
Olsen closed the session dedicating the meeting to Deno Lepas.
who died earlier this week. Olsen said, "Deno was a much-loved
industrial arts teacher. He was a great asset to this community
and I would like to dedicate this meeting to his honor."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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