Santa Paula: Planning Commission Approves Santa Clarita Style Tract Development for Historic Hardison House

By Sheryl Hamlin

Density versus preservation? That was the question of the evening, as the Santa Paula Planning Commission labored for about three hours on the proposed Williams Homes project at 1226 Ojai Road in Santa Paula.

The historic Hardison family home has been the subject of two previous articles: Planning Commission initial hearing and Williams Home site meeting. Both articles contain important photographs and links. Below is a recent photograph which has been used as the group photo in a Facebook page for the group created by Amber Mikelson, a Santa Paula resident, who also provided dozens of photographs to the city as historic references.


Staff Report

Chris Williamson, contract planner, spoke first for about thirty minutes explaining the responses to various issues for both density and preservation, as well as several “creative” options considered during the last month by Williams Homes and the planning staff. These options included adding ten units on the middle slope or another adding seven units on the toe of the slope. Both involve cut and fill, according to Williamson, and neither met the developer’s “marketing objectives” for the project. In other words, these options were too expensive. To download Mr. Williamson’s entire presentation, click here. Slide 6 shows the proposed streetscape for Ojai Road, slide 9 shows the two “creative” hillside options, responses to water issue, list of all mitigations , proposed home elevations (shown here) and much more detail can be found in this thorough report.


Another option considered during the month hiatus between the April Planning Commission meeting was to sell the historic home as a Bed and Breakfast, which Williams is exploring, but this option will require rezoning of the ¾ acre parcel now reserved for the Hardison home and relocated barn on the new site plan and an expensive retrofit to satisfy the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).

In his testimony later, Keith Herren of Williams Homes indicated he had reached out to the Museum of Ventura County, the city of Santa Paula, the San Buenaventura Conversancy and the Santa Paula Historical Society about the purchase of the home with no success. A quaint B&B surrounded by a dense tract of homes is not ideal, but this was not mentioned. A quaint B&B on the full property surrounded by horses and new cottages was never considered.

To understand the density issue, the topography of the site must be understood. In the picture below, the flat area on the east side (facing Ojai Road) is seen along with a bit of the house contrasting with the steep hillside on the west side (left half) of the picture, which was taken from the April 24, 2016 staff report. The hillside has a 2:1 slope on which zero homes may be built according to the city’s development ordinances. The current zoning for the property is Hillside Residential 2 (HR2), which is 0 to 3 dwelling units (du) per acre depending on slope with a minimum of 14,500 square foot lots.

The current plan involves private hiking trails which will be HOA maintained.


Williams Homes Testimony

Much new information was revealed at this meeting. Mr. Herren of Williams Homes said in his testimony that two and a half years ago when he met with the city planning staff, he was told that he was allowed 57 homes on the 19.27 acre property consisting of the 9.18 acre hillside and the 10 acre flat section on the east side (in brown above).

According to Chris Williamson, AICP, contract planner, the city may use the entire 19.27 acre property in the density calculation if one of three conditions is met: 1) if property avoids the hillside or retains a view, 2) if property provides open space, or 3) if a historic resource is on the property. Williamson agreed with public speakers saying the Williams proposal is “not really clustering”, but the General Plan does allow a Planned Development Permit to override the HR2 standards with a discretionary permit. Planning contends that one or more of these criteria has been met, thus allowing the use of the full 19.27 acres, rather than using only the flat portion of the property.

Note, the planning staff does NOT grant discretionary permits. It is up to the Planning Commission for such grants, so for Mr. Herren to have been told two and a half years ago that he was entitled to 57 units should be explored. Is it the city’s policy to encourage developers to breach the zoning ordinances? Where is the documentation on these meetings with the staff?

Mr. Herren contends that no one will buy homes in Santa Paula costing more than $400,000 to $500,000, citing Sparkle Ranch, a project of 20,000 square foot lots and expensive homes which never happened because there is no market for such homes in Santa Paula. He said that they just completed Ridgeview (near hospital) where one half of the buyers were “move down buyers” who wanted less yard maintenance, so the small lots were not an issue. He said they planned to spend $250,000 to relocate and refurbish the barn, but did not say what the selling price of the home and barn would be, nor was there any penalty in the staff report for destroying the barn during relocation. Later during commission comments, Mr. Wacker expressed gratitude for more low priced housing, saying the region needs more affordable homes.

Public Works Testimony

Mr Raoul Gaitan, Santa Paula Public Works, presented more revelatory information. The city has imposed a recycling water fee of $3300 per lot to go toward payment of the water treatment recycling chloride removal solution for which the pre-design cost is $120,000. Williams is objecting to the fee as did Commissioner Sommer. The city is requiring a GHAD (Geological Hazard Assessment District) to maintain the east side retaining wall. Williams says the HOA can manage the retaining wall, but Mr. Gaitan contends that the city cannot control an HOA or enforce safety with only an HOA. Mr. Gaitan also said that traffic on Highway 150 (Ojai Road) is “out of our control” because it is a state highway and because there is development in upper Ojai. He also said that in 1971, it was recorded in the city’s tract map that Fuschia Lane would be extended through the Hardison property if and when it was developed. So this extension has been on the books since 1971, but not mentioned in any of the staff reports. None of the citizen speakers indicated awareness of such a plan nor did any of the Planning Commissioners. With only one exit, as planned by Williams, it creates a liability with only one way of ingress and egress, so the city wants the Fuschia Lane extension. There was no discussion about creating a second way of ingress and egress from the Williams’ property, most likely because this would require losing some dwelling units.

Public Comments

Eleven citizens spoke during the Public Comments section of the item with none supporting the project. Notable comments from each speaker are as follows:

  • Jim Procter: The plan does not preserve the historic heritage and the mitigation measures are “window dressing”. The density is in violation of the zoning and the MND (Mitigated Negative Declaration) says there will be “significant adverse changes” to the property. He is not opposed to development, but development should follow the rules and respect the historical character of the property. Santa Paula should not accept mediocrity.
  • Gabrielle Muratori: As a construction engineer, she said the 13 additional mitigation measures are not enough. The Hardison House is a historical landmark. How does the historical importance of the property affect development? Is it a complex or just a house? Are there different norms to develop around a landmark? Are there different standards for rural versus urban development?
  • Jesse Phillips: Lives on Fushcia Lane, where there is a licensed daycare, so prefers the emergency lane rather than a through street.
  • Daniel Riesman: Reported on the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historical Rehabilitation questioning if these had been met.
  • Pam Murphy: From Santa Paula as was her family before her, she is representing the “concerned citizens for intelligent development”. This development brings the Santa Clarita Valley to Santa Paula and represents old century thinking. She is concerned about water and this path puts everyone in jeopardy. Williams Homes is not the developer, she said.
  • Pat Kennedy: A fourth generation Santa Paulan present a list of concerns including 1) water, 2) lack of EIR, 3) road safety insufficiently addressed, 4) enormous HOA responsibility, 5) no qualified geologist for hillside development, 6) landslide zone, 7) small lots, and 8) conflicting agency reports require use of EIR.
  • Sheryl Hamlin: Presented three books (Barns of Ventura County, The Barn Book and monthly issue from the National Trust for Historic Preservation) saying that these sources address the issue of “compatibility”, the determination of which is the responsibility of the commission. She said the development is incompatible with the county’s agrarian history, the city’s rural quality, the adjacent neighborhoods and the home itself. Saying that it is not the citizens’ responsibility to guarantee Williams Homes profitability, as reported by staff. She also questioned the staff guarantee to Wiliams Homes of 57 units 2 and ½ years ago.
  • Maxine McKaig: traffic on Ojai Road and 10th street already horrible, death trap; why such high density in a rural area; there are horses who walk on Ojai Road; where is the recycled water.
  • Steve Kane: home faces the property and questions the justification of “clustering” saying it is really a profit motive and is a disingenuous use of the term; he was struck by the fact that the developer did not address the density issue which was inherent in the motion from the April meeting by Commissioner Robinson; he asked for a calculation of lot size without including the ¾ acre for the Hardison house and the ½ acre park. Note: there does not appear to be a list of lot size by lot number in the staff documention; such list will be requested.
  • Mary Kane: She said the historic context is the entire space, not just the house. The traffic is bad now and will become worse. She compared the traffic to grading on the curve, where some pass but not one really learns. She said that the development on the hill near the hospital is not comparable even though the lot sizes are similar because of the views which the homes on Ojai Road will not have as they are crammed next to the mountain.
  • Breana Cooper: Said the project does not follow the zoning, except for mobile homes. The lots are substandard by any measure, except for that of mobile homes. Turning left onto Say Road is impossible and 500 trips a day will worsen this condition. The project has no respect for the historical surroundings.

Commission Discussion

Commissioner Demers said that nothing had changed from a month ago. He questioned the traffic saying that most homes today are multi-generational thus causing more trips. He said that Ridgecrest was originally $600,000 and that there the streets are very tight and the Hardison property does not have the views. The proposed development, he said, is not compatible with the Oaks.

Chairman Ikerd questioned why the family who owned the Hardison house did not make plans to keep the property intact? Mr. Procter returned to answer the question saying that there were multiple beneficiaries in the estate, most of whom did not have the financial resources for such a project. The family put over $300,000 into repairs, including foundation work, hoping it would sell as a house. They understood it was already a county landmark.

Chairman Ikerd liked the idea of hill development and less density to give space to the house and the bard. He agreed with the city that Fushcia Lane should go through to provide a secondary exit.

Commissioner Sommer talked about facts and misnomers with respect to density. He agrees with the developer that there are not homes selling in high prices and agrees with the city about Fushcia Lane.

Commissioner Robinson said this was very difficult and that the entire project has created much angst. We should not have had this project at all, he said, but should have planned years ago for the continuation of this property. Saying he supported East Area 1 and the Hagaman project, he was not convinced this is smart growth and the right development.

Commissioner Wacker said the major problem is density and is confused by the numbers.

At this point, Chair Eikert said there are several choices: approve the project, deny the project or continue the project. In the first two cases, the project still goes to council for approval. If continuing, what data will be requested?

After a break, the commission resumed the discussion.

Chris Williamson was asked to clarify the density calculation. He reiterated the calculation and the city’s exception process said that the other goal is “compatibility” to other neighborhoods because it is infill. He suggested that perhaps we could reduce the density to improve the compatibility.

Mr. Herren returned to discuss compatibility saying he understands the issues of density and compatibility particularly on the southern border. He said they should be able to “find middle ground”. He said they “might pull out a few homes” to create openness on the north and south boundaries, but reiterated that he can’t sell homes for more than $600,000 in Santa Paula.

At this point, the commission, the planner and the applicant went into design mode and pulled two units from the north and south boundaries and one from the cluster to the north of the Hardison house, giving it more room. Thus, five units were removed from the site plan reducing it from 53 new homes to 48 new homes around the Hardison home and the relocated barn.

There was more discussion from the commission. Commissioner Robison said this should be simple. If it fits the General Plan, the commission must approve it. Commissioner Eikert said that the council could still disapprove the plan. Commissioner Sommer moved to approve reducing 53 to 48 homes, removing the $3300 recycling fee and opening up Fuschia Lane. This passed on a 3-2 vote with Commissioners Demers and Ikerd voting “no”. They did not request to see the newly modified site plan before approving it.

Last Words

Planning decisions are not simple, as Commissioner Robinson would hope them to be. There are numerous agencies whose interests intersect and must be served in the planning process. There are generational changes that affect the planning process, particularly when a General Plan has a shelf life of twenty to thirty years. In this case, the buyer by his own capability and product offering created a square peg in a round hole. Dropping in a tract of new homes around a one hundred year old family homestead creates a white elephant. What happens when the old home doesn’t sell? What recourse exists when the barn disintegrates upon relocation? How can deed restrictions be created to force a new owner of the home to maintain its history? These are not simple questions. . Why did the city staff accept a mediocre project for this property two and a half years ago? By relieving Williams Homes of the $3300 per unit water treatment fee, will existing residents then be bearing a bigger share of the chloride treatment? With Mr. Herren so eager to accept a reduction of five units, might he have accepted more? Unfortunately, none of this was discussed at the meeting.

Not discussed, too, was the importance of chronologically diverse neighborhoods to create interest and compatibility. The development proposed by Williams Homes is a chronologically homogenous tract, which is why it is incompatible with the Oaks, a chronologically heterogeneous neighborhood. It is incompatible as well with the existing streetscape which is rural in nature. How does the planning process measure compatibility?

Williams Homes was clearly the wrong buyer for this property because they do not have the capability to move out of their comfort zone and create something new for the property

These are all questions yet to be answered.

Click here for all documents and a recording of the meeting.


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Rita X Stafford

If Santa Paula wishes to become Valencia, Williams Homes, the developer in the controversial Hardison property, can wipe Santa Paula’s character off the face of the earth and replace it with, in this case, a fabulous traffic jam. Also wondering how it can be that two and a half years ago, in a meeting with the Planning Commission, Keith Herren, a developer with Williams Homes, received considerable encouragement for this very plan, yet there’s nothing verifiable… no transcripts, no documentation? Williams Homes appears to have an astonishingly regressive vision for Santa Paula. While Santa Paula’s housing market has been improving remarkably from one year to the next, and in many respects, doing better than most of the other cities in county, Keith Herren believes that,
“… he can’t sell homes for more than $600,000 in Santa Paula.” Pathetic.

Amber Mickelson

This is simple preserve on place limit development around. There is no one who could actually say homes will not sell for more. Santa Paula needs better! The Main House and Barn put on a lot that is .65 of an acre, surround it with a park and expect someone to purchase it and still maintan and follow landmark standards. Its just not going to happen unless you are a crazy person with ample amounts of money. Obviously someone needs to have a conversation with whoever led Williams Homes down the wrong path!