Planning gives green light
to Los Arboles project, again
by C.A. Gilman
The Los Arboles condominium saga continued at Wednesday night's
Planning Commission meeting. Once more the commission voted unanimously
to approve the project and sent it off to the City Council for
Again, City Chambers were full to capacity with those supporting
Lance Smigel's redevelopment of the former blighted area on South
Montgomery Street, as well as the ever-faithful opponents to
the project, the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai and the Environmental
Coalition of Ventura County.
The city's legal counsel, Monte Widders, explained the most recent
court ruling that put a halt to construction on Oct. 9, and the
changes the developer has made to meet the court's requirements.
The third case the CPO had filed against the city and that was
heard on Aug. 16, ruled in favor of the city in most aspects,
but found against the city on three counts: 1) the variance allowing
a 25-foot setback between structures was not supported by the
findings; 2) the project would increase traffic and lower levels
of service and is therefore inconsistent with the Circulation
Element; and 3) there was no evidence to support the conclusion
that less dense alternatives would not return a fair profit.
Those opposing Los Arboles wanted to see 15 units rather than
the 23 under development.
"On the first issue, the variance is moot because the zone
change is now in effect," Widders said. The zone change
allowed for 25-foot setbacks. The developer worked with traffic
engineers to provide an addendum to the Los Arboles project that
would clarify the traffic impact. Smigel and his consultants,
Wald Realty Advisors, also provided a report on the feasibility
of development alternatives and their return on investment.
Widders said, "The court's ruling did find that the project
was not inconsistent with the city's growth management plan (which
expired in the year 2000). The court wanted to know why there
wasn't any growth management plan. We explained that was because
the Housing Element was under attack and being challenged in
the court (also by the CPO and Environmental Coalition). The
court found that the Housing Element number was consistent with
the state's requirements (despite the opposition). The city is
now bringing the growth management plan back to the state. Los
Arboles is consistent with the village's small growth management
plan; the finding also found that the project didn't have adverse
impact on air quality, and that the SEIR met the requirements
of California Air Quality Environmental Act."
Traffic engineer Scot Shel said, "With the mitigated program
there would actually be a reduction in traffic on 33."
Smigel said, "We've done everything we could to make this
project smart growth. Three different community development directors
in Ojai have supported the project. It relies in putting housing-mixed
use space in the downtown area. It is an infill project; this
is an improvement and classic redevelopment. We can add 23 market-rate
units to the city's inventory. With several mitigation measures,
we feel we can actually reduce traffic: provide a van pool, implement
it and report back to the council; and agreed to a mitigation
fee to add to mitigate downtown traffic problems."
Russ Baggerly: president of the Environmental Coalition of Ventura
County said, "With a rush to again approve this project,
the addendum attempts to change the level of service (LOS) numbers
to a higher level in order to accommodate this project traffic.
This amounts to an ad hoc amendment to the General Plan and is
contrary to law."
CPO President Ivor Benci-Woodward said, "We have continually
contested the consistency with the General Plan. This has cost
you almost a quarter of million dollars in attorney and court
fees; I suggest you seek a second opinion and make substantial
changes to the Los Arboles project and follow your own General
Commissioner John Mirk said, "This is not a rush to judgment,
we have been entertaining this project for three years."
Chairman Blatz, who is also an attorney, reminded the audience,
"The Planning Commission is not a legislative unit; it is
administrative. Our job is to take guidance from counsel and
use our best judgment in passing on measures we believe the City
Council should approve."
The commission voted unanimously to send the Los Arboles project
and addendum to City Council for next Tuesday night's meeting.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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