Public makes impression on Planning
By Jesse Phelps
All those that have said that
a single voice can indeed make a difference rejoice. At the Ojai
Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday night, something happened
to back up the assertion.
Both major agenda topics, a reconsideration of a large storage
facility on Bryant Street and a proposed revision to Ojai's new
granny-flat ordinance, received serious input from the community,
enough in both cases to sway the commission.
William B. Kendall originally brought plans for an enormous,
two-lot storage facility on Bryant Street before the commission
on April 16 for an architectural review, parcel map, sign permit
and tree permit. On that night, many concerns surfaced, ranging
from relatively minor complaints such as the sign out front being
too big to major ones like the plans themselves being too big.
On that night, a night when commissioner Paul Blatz was absent,
the commission deadlocked at three votes apiece and the plans
were effectively denied as a result. At that time, a decision
was made to bring the plans back at a later date, which turned
out to be Wednesday night.
With Blatz back in attendance and having reviewed audio and minutes
from April, Kendall again came before the commission hoping to
receive that needed fourth vote. It wasn't to be.
A parade of concerned citizens stepped forth, taking advantage
of the public forum to alternately discuss alternatives to the
massive development or go to bat for it. Marlene Spencer, who
works with seniors through Help of Ojai, expressed concern about
the development's proximity to Whispering Oaks, a senior housing
development adjacent to the empty meadow where the development
would be erected.
She wondered aloud why "a piece of property this size"
was not being considered instead for senior housing.
Carmen Seligman, who does bilingual outreach for Help of Ojai,
agreed. She said a solution to the current housing crunch in
town should be the top priority for such a lot. In the past four
months, said Seligman, she's had to help escort four families
- including 16 school-aged children - out of the valley to Ventura.
Not an ideal situation, she pointed out, for the school district
in a time of major budget crunches.
Tim Dewar of the Ventura County Humane Society had another concern.
The meadow, he said, supports a variety of wildlife, including
many squirrels and rabbits. He wondered, in the event of a major
development, where these animals would relocate, saying, "We
can't support any more animals on our property." Dewar urged
a humane solution to the wildlife dilemma no matter what gets
built on the property and said any unacceptable solution could
be grounds for prosecution.
As the parade of speakers continued, the idea of using the spilt
lot partially for storage and partially for additional senior
housing began to coalesce into more of a realistic possibility.
Kathleen Richards and Kale Starbird, representing the area Housing
Authority, proposed the idea of a partnership between their agency,
the developers and possibly the city to create an addition to
Though this potential might bring more rezoning, the commission
seemed less daunted by that than the idea of a mammoth storage
lot in the village mixed use zone, which would not be suitable
for another business in the event the storage business was not
successful and would provide a minimum of jobs in the event that
All the commissioners, after hearing the input of the community,
seemed less comfortable with the idea of dedicating the large
space to storage units. In the end, they asked Kendall if he'd
rather have a denial, which would force him to start the permitting
process from scratch, or more time to redesign the project for
a smaller parcel, leaving open the possibility of more housing.
He chose the latter option. He'll come before the commission
at a later date with new plans for a reduced-size development
and, meanwhile, he'll look into ways to partner with the Housing
Authority to create a new addition for Whispering Oaks.
Senior housing continued to be the topic of the day as the next
agenda item came before the commission. All cities that have
not adopted a new ordinance for second dwelling units, or granny-flats,
by July 1 will be subject to new California state standards.
Thus, Ojai city attorney Monte Widders has been hard at work
creating a new ordinance. As it turns out, the active citizens
of the valley have also been hard at work on revisions.
After a presentation of the newest changes by community development
director Robert Casias, the commission heard another set of revisions
proposed by local residents Heidi Whitman and Bill Miley. Once
again, as was the theme of the night, after much back and forth,
the official plans were changed at the behest of the citizenry.
Thanks to Miley and Whitman, no newly approved second dwelling
unit will be over 640 square feet, pervious, or porous, surfaces
will be encouraged for new driveways and the overall language
of the ordinance will be more specific, giving planners more
teeth when dealing with approvals.
Over the past 43 years, only 27 second-dwelling units have met
with approval in the city. Planners, staff and citizens agreed
that, while additional housing is crucial, a dramatic increase
is not desirable. Since the new ordinance decrees that proposed
units will be processed ministerially through staff rather than
at formal hearings before the commission, the tougher standards
need to serve to keep the number of new developments to a minimum.
The Ojai Valley News
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