Los Arboles builders face opposition on Montgomery Street
By Nao Braverman
The Ojai Planning Commission made it clear at Wednesday night’s meeting, that they were not interested in seeing anymore massive million-dollar condominiums in Ojai .
Several years, and seven or eight designs and redesigns into their development project, Scott and Lance Smigel were essentially turned down, once again, by the commission.
The Smigel brothers, developers of the controversial Los Arboles Townhomes, which have been unfavorably received by a number of vocal community members, have been trying to move forward with another relatively high-end village mixed use condominium at 119 and 201 S. Montgomery St. But some community members were not pleased.
“A while back, no one wanted million-dollar condominiums because they didn’t fit with the neighborhood,” said Ojai resident Len Klaif. “Now we have passed so many of them that they do fit. This is not mixed in any sense, it’s not village, and it’s not what people come to Ojai to see. There are plenty of condos elsewhere just like this. They aren’t going to come to Ojai to see what our condos look like.”
At a planning meeting in December 2007, the project was turned down for several reasons, but namely because the construction would endanger some protected trees, including a redwood about 100 years old.
This time, the applicants returned with a design that included some amendments to protect the trees, while catering to Ojai decision makers’ environmental concerns, by adding as many green elements as possible.
The four new condominium units are to be made with many recycled materials. Each is built on permeable paving, and all are equipped with electrical outlets in each parking structure, to encourage electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Architect Marc Whitman said that he also hopes to get solar panels on the roofs of the structure as well.
But the mass of the project, in an area that planning commissioners see as a quaint pedestrian village, was still an issue that the redesign had not resolved.
While several commissioners complimented the architectural and landscape design, the consensus was that the structures were too bulky, especially at street level.
“This feels like a little fortress,” said commissioner Tucker Adams. “And I don’t think that’s the way something on the street should feel,” she said.
Another concern, among commissioners, was the project’s proximity to the street. Commissioner Cortus Koehler said the sparse sidewalk space that would be left after the construction was finished, did not invite pedestrian activity.
All commissioners agreed that parking spaces out front were even less inviting.
Although the concept of a village mixed use zone was appealing to commissioners, it hadn’t yet been successful in generating a village feel so far. All commissioners said they wanted something smaller for the Montgomery Street location. Later they conceded to having the street-facing units smaller, in order to minimize the overwhelming size of the structures in comparison to the neighboring houses.
Lance and Scott Smigel were both frustrated as they had intended to give the commissioners what they thought the city wanted, a village mixed use project in the preferred Craftsman style. However, they agreed to consider drafting a new plan and continue the item to a later date.
They also agreed to add a disclosure that the project’s proximity to the Art Center might expose residents to disturbances from late night parties, and the smell of coffee roasting in the morning.
In other planning news a redesigned landscaping plan for a new patio and outdoor dining area for the Ojai Beverage Company, formerly known as Regal’s Wine & Sprits, passed unanimously. The former beverage store’s new bar is soon to have an outdoor seating area extending from the back of the store away from the street.