Santa Paula Planning Commission: Bendpak, Inc. Expansion and Luxury Hillside Home

By Sheryl Hamlin

The Planning Commission for May 26, 2015 contained two items, each of which illustrated noteworthy planning challenges.

The first item was as follows:

2015-CDP-01 – A request for Conditional Use Permit and Planned Development Permit in order to construct a new 66,400 square foot industrial warehouse building on an existing vacant 3.5 acre parcel

The applicant, Bendpak, Inc., proposes to build additional warehouse space for an existing manufacturing facility in Santa Paula. According to Mr. James McNight, a representative of the applicant, the project has been one year in the making and will increase manufacturing efficiency by providing inventory space for production components needed by their existing Santa Paula manufacturing process. Just what do they make?  Bendpak builds hoists to augment garage storage for both private and commercial users and sells a line of shop equipment.

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The site has several unique features, explained Stratis Perros, Assistant Planning Director. First of all, this parcel is the last available, undeveloped parcel in the Lemonwood Industrial Park. The 66,400 square foot metal structure proposes a floor area ratio of .41 which is above the .25 floor area ratio specified for the Lemonwood Industrial Park, thus requiring a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).

Additionally, the parcel contains a segment of an underground canal, used for flood control. The building had to be sited to clear the canal, thus creating the asymmetrical design. The potential flood level for this location requires a raised pad, thus a LOMR (Letter of Map Revision) was filed. Many locations in Santa Paula are affected by flooding. For example, the new Starbucks pad also had to be raised due to the possibility of flooding.underground_canal

 

The project was approved unanimously. Mr. Perros reiterated that industrial development requests for Santa Paula, of which there are several, will be directed to the west side of the city now that this industrial park is at capacity.

The next item was agendized as follows and was in actuality a “concept review”:

2015-CR-01 , Planning Commission Concept Review for a proposed single family residential hillside home on a 2.42 acre vacant parcel.

Commission Chair Ikerd recused himself from this discussion due to personal proximity. Vice Chair Robinson assumed the role as chair for this item.

The address for the proposed luxury hillside home is 516 Montclair Place, which is part of the 9 unit Hillsborough subdivision approved in 1990. The current owners, who were present at the meeting, have owned the property for ten years but have not built. Of the nine parcels in Hillsborough, only four have been built to date.

Mr. and Mrs. Herschbach are considering the purchase of 516 Montclair Place and have hired Mr. David Waterland of Riverside, California to design a home suitable to the conditions of this particular tract. Mr. and Mrs. Herschbach are seeking guidance from the Planning Commission about the viability of their plans in the event they proceed with the purchase of the lot.

Two issues: the preservation of the view shed and the maintenance of the required square footage are mutually convoluting the design of this home. Condition number 19 of the Hillsborough tract says that the home cannot project above the ridge line. Some options to mitigate this are: amend the condition or grade the pad down below the ridgeline, which is expensive because the utilities have already been brought to the graded pad. Waterland is capable of providing a one story, 2400 square foot home that DOES NOT violate the ridge line, however, the Hillside tract specifies that homes should be a minimum of 3000 square feet, which caused a second story to be added to the design and which extends beyond the ridge line.

Two obvious questions: why not amend the requirement of the size of the home, particularly when a 2400 square foot home is amenable to the potential new owners? The second question was stated succinctly by Mr. Waterland who said “Why was this pad even graded?”, a question that exposes the flaw in “tract” development, particularly in tracts with challenging hillside topography.

Time after time, developers “plan” a subdivision with a pre-conceived notion of the final product which may or may not fit the topography of the site, intending to make adjustments using cut and fill techniques. Such practices produce mediocrity and potentially destabilize the hillside. Developers lay out a site for x homes on a flat or 2-D surface, then cut and fill to make the site plan fit to a hillside, when they should be selling only an ungraded, outline of the lot boundaries allowing the creativity of a designer or architect to fit a home to the site. The Foothill and Peck project is an example of this type of thinking. What if a buyer wants to assemble multiple lots and make something grand? With pre-graded lots, the buyer’s options become limited and changes are expensive. Pre-grading produces mediocrity.  The proposed home as shown below was obviously designed for a flat pad and shows absolutely no thought for hillside conditions.

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The Herschbach family also proposes to give the city approximately 1/8 of an acre of land adjacent to the water tanks for improvement or removal of the tanks. Mr. Perros indicated that the current schedule of the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) has not been solidified, so he could not comment on the possibility of this work. Commissioner Demers said that such a grant makes the project attractive and suggested tree planting to mitigate the ridge line issue. Mr. Sommer said that most of what the Herschbach family is asking is not in the jurisdiction of the Planning Commission.

The current owner spoke saying that the city approved the subdivision, yet created a potentially unbuildable lot, so the prospective buyers are unable to determine the viability of their project.

Mr. Robinson indicated that the Planning Commissions purview is limited in this area. It would be up to the city council to change the conditions of the subdivision. 

Mr. Perros suggested that a stepped down design would be another alternative to the second story. Flowing a home down the curves of a hillside is a design technique used in architecturally designed homes and should be considered for this lot. Another technique for hillside development is the use of stilts to create an extruded section of the house without adding extra, undesired height. This idea was not mentioned at the meeting.

More dialogue will be necessary to solve this problem. However, the city could avoid such conditions by establishing a Design Review Committee for all building consisting of local architects, designers and landscapers who would anticipate such issues and give recommendations before sending the project through the planning process.

Under City Communications, Mr. Perros reported three important milestones:

1) The terms are ending for the Planning Commissioners and two candidates have applied for two positions.

2) An RFP (Request for Proposal) has been produced and sent to potential planning consultants for the General Plan Revision which was last updated in 1998. The state of California requires the General Plan be updated every ten years. The budget for this project has been raised to $350,000. The result will be a new vision for Santa Paula growth. He indicated that several consultants have proposed a General Plan Steering Committee, consisting of citizen input, but there might not be budget for this suggestion made by Sheryl Hamlin in Public Comments.

3) Sales tax is too low for Santa Paula, as discussed in previous budget meetings, and the business applications he is reviewing are not businesses which generate sales tax. This is an economic development goal, he said, which must be addressed for the city to meet its revenue needs.

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Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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