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Developer to host community workshop Jan. 6 on OUSD development proposal

Screen Shot 2021 12 24 at 8.59.46 AM

Diagram via SVS DEV LLC. 

 

Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News reporter

A community workshop to get input on developing the Ojai Unified School District office is set for Thursday, Jan. 6, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at a location to be determined.

The workshop will be held just six days before the school board is scheduled to vote on its exclusive right to negotiate with developer SVS Dev LLC 

RSVP for the Jan. 6 workshop at the Ojai Town Square website: https://bit.ly/3mrhKFB.

In addition to organizing the workshop, SVS Dev LLC is forming a community advisory group for the development. 

“It’s something we’ve been working on for about a month now,” said Overacre, noting the people in the group will work as a steering committee for the development process. “I think it will be really helpful in facilitating this process in a more open and public manner,” she said.

The school district’s plan for a hotel and retail, among other proposals, at the site, 414 E. Ojai Ave., was met with significant opposition at an overflowing crowd at the Nov. 7 Ojai Planning Commission and a packed Dec. 15 school board meeting.

“Our goal has been to have an open process to build a project that is right for the community and school district,” said SVS Dev LLC design partner Bradley Schnell at the Dec. 15 school board meeting. “The key part of this plan has been to hold public workshops and forums in order to come up with the best solutions together. … This process has not yet even occurred. We’re just getting started.”

At the Dec. 15 school board meeting, OUSD attorney David Soldani shared key takeaways following the initial concept design review at the Planning Commission meeting.

“The purpose of that hearing was to get community feedback from not only the public, but members of the Planning Commission on the specific concept that was submitted,” said Soldani, who noted the key takeaways as: 

1. No community support for a large hotel 

2. Strong desire for community involvement through the development process 

3. Concerns over water, traffic and historical component of site 

4. Alternative development ideas shared by community members

The plan has been based on the condition of “highest and best use” for the site, a technical term used in the initial Request for Proposal designed to maximize the profit potential for the district. 

“Our plan, per the school’s issued RFP, reflects what would be the highest revenue potential,” said developer Kristine Overacre. “I think we’re all in agreement that (a hotel) is not the best use of the site.”

A new plan is expected to be unveiled prior to the Jan. 12 school board meeting, when the exclusive right to negotiate contract comes up for extension or termination by the OUSD board. 

“We are modifying it to show what we think is actually the right plan for the site,” said Overacre. “It’s a balancing act. We need something that is a financially viable project for the school in order for it to make sense for them. But it also has to make sense for the community.” 

School Board President Jane Weil said the school board is looking for a lease, not a sale, of the property, and that a recent appraisal of the property indicated a lease could bring in $750,000 a year to the school district. 

“One of the factors that we said needed to be in the plan was that it is consistent with community values,” said Trustee Michael Shanahan. “We are cognizant of the impact on the city and nothing has been decided at this point.” 

The developers’ previous projects include office buildings, subdivisions, mixed-use projects, and hotels, which were highlighted in the RFP case study that won the group the initial contract. 

Soldani said at the Dec. 15 meeting that any considerations of lease agreement, exclusive right to negotiate extensions, or termination of the project altogether will take place at a properly noticed public board meeting. 

“That is a legal requirement,” said Soldani. “When there is something to talk about along those lines, it will be agendized and it will be discussed. The public will have a right to weigh in on those issues.” 

According to Overacre, communication between OUSD and the development group has been challenging due to OUSD hiring a consultant who serves as a mediator between the groups. 

“It’s made it more challenging because we don’t have a directly line of communication with the board,” said Overacre. 

Despite concerns over the plan discussed at the Planning Commission meeting, all options are are being explored by the development company. 

“Everything is on the table still,” said Overacre. “The plans that we’ve seen are specifically driven by the RFP that was put out by the school requesting highest and best use and highest revenue to the school district. That’s what our plans currently reflect. I don’t think that is anyone’s intention in terms of what we will actually build.” 

Community ideas for the property aired at the two recent public meetings have ranged from community-centric spaces to a career technical school. New options being weighed by the development group include housing specifically for OUSD staff, micro-retail and artist spaces that can potentially be rented to community members, and additional parking for the city, all of which Overacre said would stay within the current height limit of 35 feet, with the exception of a possible restoration of the bell tower to 48 feet. 

An additional FAQ on the project released by OUSD can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3Jawz9k

For more information on the community workshop, visit the development website at https://bit.ly/3mnxLMz

 

 

 

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