Santa Paula Planning Commission Continues Decision on Historic Hardison Home

By Sheryl Hamlin

Williams Homes of Santa Clarita bought the historic Hardison Home in 2014 for $1.4 million after the estate dropped the price by over one million dollars. It was originally listed in 2012 for $2.5 million by Scott Rushing Realtors. The Redfin listing includes numerous photographs of the interiors, as well as the listing price changes.

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The agenda item on the Planning Commission of April 26, 2016 was to consider a proposed Planned Development by Williams Homes consisting of 53 dwelling units plus restoration and relocation of the historic barn.

Staff Report

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Mr. Williams presented the project first noting name changes from “River Rock” to “Rosewood” per the developer, but the common reference is “Hardison House”. He also noted the issue with improper notice in the newspaper requiring recirculation of the MND, in which 11 comments from both the initial posting were collected as well as 44 comments from the second circulation of the document.

The final MND (Mitigated Negative Declaration) is here with Technical Appendices here. A letter from Amber Mickelson that was omitted is here along with an extensive collection of pictures showing current and past scenes from the property. These pictures show past and recent scenes from an upscale family ranch home dating from the 19th century. Ms. Mickelson’s comments are considered #45 for the second circulation including numerous photographs showing existing conditions.

Mr. Williams explained the rationale for allowing homes on the entire 19.28 acres, even though only 9.6 are actually allowed for development per the city’s municipal code based on the extreme slope of the west 9.18 acres. As follows:

The Total Property is 19.28 acres minus .19 acres to widen Ojai Road leaving 19.09 acres for density purposes. Multiply 19.09 by 3 units per acre (Hillside Residential per General Plan) yields 57 units maximum. But 9.5 acres are too steep for development, leaving only 9.6 acres “suitable for development”, so the lower area will be included in what he calls a Planned Development Permit Overlay, yielding 5.6 units per acre.

It is important to note that the property is zoned ‘Hillside Residential’ now, but they are requesting to change it to HR-PD2, which creates a Planned Development Overlay, essentially a vehicle to override the development standards in the Municipal Code. As the staff report indicates, there are 7 conditions which will be below standards, if this project is approved. Every item labeled “PD required” means the Development Feature is substandard: lot area, interior lot width, corner lot width, front yard setback, interior side yard setback, corner side yard setback, and rear yard setback second story. All of these substandard conditions yield a very dense development with minimal privacy in yards or through windows.

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Mr. Williams noted that the property is eligible for numerous historical designations, but none has been pursued, per the historians who performed the historic assessment of the property. He also added that even after this development, the property will retain merit to be eligible for the National Register. This claim was refuted by the San Buenaventura Conservancy in a letter (April 25, 2015) to the City.

There is not an active Historical Preservation Board in Santa Paula. It is not a Brown Act committee, as it should be, with regular meetings and minutes. It is called by the whim of the Planning Director, who said in the May 4, 2015 City Council Meeting that the historical boards have not been convened because of lack of activity. See the video here at move the dial to 4:16:04.

Lot 35, he said, will be 2/3 of an acre, a single family home, the Hardison House, with the barn moved and relocated adjacent to the house to be used by the purchaser of lot 35. The barn restoration will be performed using historic standards for renovating historic standards. Deed restrictions will be placed on lot 35 regarding maintenance of residence as well as exterior modifications.

The open space lot in front of Lot 35 is to be owned by the HOA, which means the house will always be visible from Ojai Road. During a later testimony, Steve Lewis, civil engineer, explained that the lot in front of the Hardison House is a subterranean ground water recharge area with infiltration. This means that all roofs drain to the storm system so no water will come off the project during any storm. This is due to very sandy conditions on the property which allows for rapid percolation. See Appendices for details.

Mr. Williams also pointed out that the 9.5 acre west hillside will not be a public park, but will be HOA maintained and used only by residents and guests. He did not say what the impact of maintaining and insuring this area would be on the monthly association costs. Two of the interior streets are public city streets while the two smaller streets are HOA maintained. Not mentioned at the meeting, these street designations will have challenging impacts on parking enforcement as was noted by former Mayor Krause at a council meeting.

He said that although the CEQA document was not an EIR, it was as thorough as an EIR. Note that in a citizen testimony during Public Comments, this claim is refuted. It is also refuted in a statement read by a citizen in Public Comments.

Comments in general, he said were: the property should have been evaluated as a district, more property retained for historic integrity, and too many houses and small lots are incompatible with neighborhood. Traffic was also mentioned as well as through traffic to Fuscia Lane, wherein a handwritten petition from the residents of the Fuscia Lane area was submitted.

His states that the CEQA MND fully conforms to the law and that no further EIR is needed, based on the fact that “no new evidence” was brought out in any commentary received. Feasible mitigations reduce the impacts below the level of thresholds, although they do not eliminate impacts. This is a very important point in the planning process: mitigate, but not eliminate impacts.

For a previous review of the site plan and issues, click here.

Applicant Presentation

Mr. Keith Herren, EVP and CDO of Williams Homes, presented visualizations of the project, including potential financial benefits to the city and renderings of the project upon completion.

He described their work in Santa Paula, Ventura and Fillmore. The barn, he said, is now “yellow tagged” and leaning, but they plan to spend $250,000 replacing shingles, wood, fascia, windows, paint and a new foundation after relocation to Lot 35. He said the recurring revenue to the city would be $929,205 but did not provide details, and he described “temporary jobs”. He brought the financial analyst, but no one asked questions of this analysis.

He complained about Santa Paula’s fees: Impact fees of $52,000 per unit and Building Plan Check Fees & Permits of $12,000 total $64,000 per unit. The total is $2.8 million in fees for the entire project which he says is “unprecedented”. He is also requesting relief from the General Plan Maintenance Plan fee of $260,000 which he claims essentially underwrites the entire General Plan of the city which is underway. He also mentioned the neighborhood meeting, which is reviewed here. He reiterated that it was the city, not his company, that wants the connection at Fuscia Lane. He showed a visualization of the west side of the property, where there is a stepped down area, thus reducing the impacts of the two story homes on the neighbors. He also showed Ojai Road with new sidewalks and a see through fence. He brought a team of six people to answer questions: engineering, dust, traffic, architecture and finance.

Public Comments

Ten citizens spoke in Public Comments.

  • Richard Yamamoto: With over 20 years on Ojai Road, he wished someone would have maintained the land but glad it is within the city limits. He felt it is contradictory to keep the hillside open and overload the flatland. He expressed concerns about traffic, particularly at school times, and water, saying a minimalist approach to development was needed to maximize the community.
  • Mary Kane: Agreed with Mr. Yamamoto adding concern about the historical integrity of the pasture, land and barn. The house has a connection to agriculture. Cramming homes destroys the heritage. How can you put a price tag on history?
  • KevenByer: Is this really good for Santa Paula, he asked, or just something to tide us over? There is now a 2 to 5 minute wait for a left turn on to Ojai Road, which will be exacerbated causing an impact on current life. Will there be a light on 150? Lights urbanize the area. Water source? 80% of property taxes go to the State, he said, so small resulting monies to Santa Paula. We need to create a standard to benefit Santa Paula.
  • John Stone: No legal or safety requirements require extension of Fuscia
  • Fred Davis: Protect children and citizens of Fuscia He noted that there is a preschool in the area where children are at plan as well as parents.
  • Michelle Phillips: Concerned about vehicle connection to Fuscia Lane and the safety of the day care center. There are blind spots now. Safety, danger and quality of life will be affected with the opening of Fuscia Will consider moving if this project proceeds.
  • Jesse Phillips: Why does the new community get two accesses to Ojai Road? 10 children attend licensed daycare located at Marigold and Fuscia.
  • Sheryl Hamlin: Questioning Chris Williams’ assumptions, she said the project should have no more than 30 homes. The steep slopes are allowed zero homes in the municipal code, so there is no reason to credit the project with homes from the unbuildable area. Renovate the barn in place for a unit and redo the site plan more creatively in a less rectilinear manner. The streetscape on Ojai is contrary to the rural setting which is what Ojai Road now portrays.
  • Amina Bancroft: read a statement from Amber Mickelson as follows … The project before you uses a Mitigated Negative Declaration rather than an Environmental Impact Report as the standard of environmental review. This is not supported by CEQA guidelines or case law. In Keep Our Mountains Quiet v. County of Santa Clara* the Court of Appeals stated that: “[i]f there is disagreement among expert opinion supported by facts … the Lead Agency shall treat the effect as significant and shall prepare an EIR.” ** Expert opinion was submitted in comments from the State Historic Preservation Officer/California State Office of Historic Preservation, the National Barn Alliance and the San Buenaventura Conservancy Board stating that the project, as presented, does not mitigate impacts to the environment to a less than significant level as required by CEQA. The Keep Our Mountains Quiet judgment cited the applicable “fair argument” standard: “An EIR is required whenever substantial evidence in the record supports a “fair argument” significant impacts or effects may occur.” ***   Ms. Bancroft also noted that she had moved from Moorpark and could relate to the suburban streetscape proposed to Williams Homes for Ojai Road, as too suburban.
  • Matt Jackson: Born and raised in Santa Paula, particularly in the Royal Oaks area, he was concerned about water and climate change. He suggested the developer consider implementing grey water and rain water capture and storage. He also noted that the MND did not appear to have been prepared independently.

Commission Commentary

Commissioner Sommer liked the grey water suggestion and was concerned about density, but city convinced him that everything falls into hillside residential, which of course is not true, because the requested density requires the approval of the PD. He asked about Ms. Mickelson’s pictures, one of which appeared to be a second barn. Chris Williams deferred to Mitch Stone, who did not comment. Mr. Sommer said the property is an eyesore. Anything the developer does will be a huge advantage, he said.

Commissioner Demers was concerned about traffic, which is bad now on Ojai Road. The implementation of mitigation measures in 16.1 (alternating two way streets with restricted parking) is not clear nor how effective it will be. Who will do the work to implement the traffic mitigation measures? Ryan Kelly, traffic consultant, Culver City, explained the traffic analysis which was performed in 2015 using counts taken at seven intersections, the worst of which will be Orchard and Ojai Road. The project will generate 505 new trips daily on Ojai Road. The recommendation is no left turn on to Ojai Road from Richmond, so traffic will be directed via Richard. They recommend a two way stop control now, but no light. Mr. Kelly explained that the mitigation measure in 16.1 was already proposed in the EAI Traffic Study. These changes will affect all residents near Ojai Road, but there was no question about notice to these residents.

Commissioner Demers asked about water saying the statement “increased yields from Santa Paula Basin” is not realistic because we have never even done a yield study to see if the Santa Paula basin is yielding what they say it is yielding. The second issue is the use of recycled water from the city’s Waste Water Treatment Facility. It is a “long way off, if at all”, he said.

Shane Parker, who did the water study in the CEQA document, analyzed the city’s water supply based on the city’s projections stated in the Urban Water Management Plan where future growth is forecast. So, theoretically, because this development does not exceed the plan, it does not force water issues. The project impacts are less than significant because the city has already planned for this growth, he said.

Attorney Cotti added that the project is required to contribute 21 afy (acre feet per year) or pay an in lieu fee.

Commissioner Demers asked about dual piping for sending recycled water to the project. Chris Williams said that the project would not be dual piped because “eventually” the state will allow blended water (recycled into potable) so no need for dual piping, based on experience with the City of Oxnard’s GREAT Project.

Commissioner Demers said the density calculations were a “sleight of hand” because it really is not a 19 acre parcel. He said he is familiar with the issues, expensive land, regulations, but this creates living conditions less than desirable by forcing ourselves into undesirable neighborhoods.

Commissioner Wacker found the design of the homes “attractive”. He asked about “green” building standards. Chris Williams answered by saying that California raises its standards every year and these homes will be energy efficient and water efficient. Shane Parker added that Title 24 was updated in 2016 and is more stringent.

Commissioner Wacker asked the price range of the homes. Mr. Herren answered that they plan to be in the low to high $400,000 range. The key is affordability, he said, stating that in the last twelve months 60 homes have been sold in the $400,000 to $500,000 range in Santa Paula with only eleven (11) greater than $600,000. Additionally, FHA funds below $600,000, so this is where the market is.

Commissioner Robinson, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of Chair Ikerd, asked about the sale of the house. Mr. Herren responded that the house and barn would be sold together. Commissioner Robinson then referenced a recent event held at the Adolfo Camarillo House in Camarillo which had been restored and retained for public use. He would like to see the city buy the house and retain it for public purposes. Although he noted that Williams builds quality homes, he said that the project is too dense. It “breaks my heart”, he said, to see the “cracker box” style. Is that what we want around the beautiful home? How could we use the Hardison Home for the community, he asked rhetorically? He suggested Williams return to the drawing board, maybe considering the upper level for some high end homes, and close Fuscia Lane, particularly because the Santa Paula Fire Department does not have a problem with doing so.

Commissioner Robison noted that he was born at 4th and Main Street seventy years ago. This planning exercise, he said, brought out the importance of this asset (the Hardison House). We lost Blanchard Library, he said. How this happened is beyond comprehension, he asked rhetorically. Then he reminded the audience that “we almost lost the SP Depot”, but it was bought by the community and given to the city. He moved to continue the item to address issues of density, Fuscia Lane and house options, saying that they should have all five commissioners for the next hearing.

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Commissioner Sommer said that the parking and traffic of a center like the Camarillo House would be problematic in this location. Mr. Herren of Williams Homes said they should keep the hillside pristine. All overlooked the municipal code restriction on building on a such steep slope, but perhaps the toe of the slope could be considered.

The motion to continue passed 4-0 with a roll call vote.

The date will be May 24th for the next hearing.

The full packet including Staff Reports for this meeting may be viewed here. The recording of the meeting may be viewed here. The minutes will be posted here a month after the meeting.

An uploaded copy of the audio recording of the meeting is available here.

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For more information about the author, visit sheryhamlin.com

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Sh
Sh
4 years ago

There are really 8 substandard conditions if one adds density, because the planner’s hypotheses is flawed.