Motor court to make way for 23 condo units
By Nao Braverman
Four years after its first appearance at City Hall, the controversial Mallory Way condominium project is to be reviewed by the public once again, starting today.
All but seven of 25 quaint rental bungalows near downtown are to be demolished to make way for a group of 23 new two-story condominiums, if plans are approved.
The fact that the development would destroy so much of what was believed to be affordable housing, which was both attractive and of historic significance, garnered the project many local enemies.
The shortage of affordable housing was even more apparent two years ago when the Mallory Way project re-emerged just in time for local City Council elections, and became a favorite topic for council candidates.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood just walking distance from downtown Ojai, the cluster of Mallory Way rental units was once an old motor court during the post-World War II era. With each cottage named after a famous racehorse, the lodge was built for auto tourists with a swimming pool and all the luxury of a motel, in the secluded, somewhat rustic town that Ojai was in the late 1940s.
Today, the original swimming pool is filled with cement and the original motor court bungalows have been renovated to make cozy, inexpensive rental units.
While the architectural design of those Mallory Way cottages is still reminiscent of the old motor court, and has been unofficially recognized as historically significant, it has no landmark status, according to city manager Jere Kersnar.
Moreover, while the existing units are often referred to as affordable housing, they are not all considered affordable, he said. Mallory Way studio rentals on the Becker Group web site are listed at $875 a month. That may seem cheap for Ojai. But for studios, they are priced higher than the affordable bracket, according to Kersnar.
He said he is not sure what the exact price range is for official designated affordable housing, but most Mallory Way cottages just don’t cut it. Prices for affordable housing are determined to cost the residents about 30 percent of their income. So an affordable two bedroom rental for very low income resident in Ojai would cost $900 a month according to figures from Ojai’s Community Development Department as determined in November 2007.
“Most Mallory Way rentals, I believe, would be cheap if they were one bedrooms, but many of them are studios,” said Kersnar. “Because they are studios they have a lower price threshold.”
But even if they were affordable units, there wouldn’t be much that the city could do to stop the property owner from destroying them to develop the property.
Despite the lack of much-needed affordable housing, the city doesn’t even have a stringent replacement program, which would require a property owner to replace affordable units that were destroyed, said Kersnar.
The most recent design for the condominium project proposes to keep only seven existing units on the property that are officially affordable and sign a contract to keep them that way.
In the latest proposal, the owner of the property, the Matilija Investment Cooperative, plans to demolish 18 existing units on Mallory Way. In exchange for the original cottages ranging from 400 to 1,000 square feet with yard space, the investment cooperative offers 23 new two-story Craftsman-style condominiums of about 2,000 square feet with carports.
Though a little more cramped than Ojai’s ordinance allows, the Matilija Investment Cooperative is requesting a density bonus as a concession which it is entitled to because it is providing seven contractually affordable units.
Property owners are asking to essentially streamline any environmental review of the project with a Mitigated Negative Declaration which states that the project will have essentially no environmental impact according to the California Environmental Quality Act standards.
Jeff Becker, the Matilija Investment Cooperative representative, did not return e-mailed questions in time for print.
Residents who want to comment on the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Mallory Way project can do so at the City Hall today until Aug. 18 at 5 p.m.
The Mitigated Negative Declaration will be discussed at the Historic Preservation meeting on Sept. 8 and a public hearing is tentatively set for the Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 17.
In the quickest scenario, the project would come before the City Council at the end of October, said city planner Katrina Rice Schmidt.