Nov. 8, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Sparked by plans to renovate the building at 510/511 Ojai Ave., the Ojai Planning Commission Wednesday discussed the idea of allowing residential units in commercial buildings in the downtown core.
Such a mix is allowed in certain areas of the city, but not currently in the area of the proposed project.
The Commission approved of the general concept, and hopes to see the building renovated, but asked staff to develop a proposal and then take it to the City Council for consideration and approval.
“Last night we had a policy discussion about do we want to keep our commercial properties one hundred percent commercial, or do we want to allow for some level of residential in our commercial development area, which is mostly along Ojai Avenue,” said Rob Mullane, Community Development Director. “Oftentimes allowing for some level of residential is attractive to developers, and a little flexibility could help encourage them to come forward with proposals for vacant or abandoned properties.”
The building has a Western-style front with dusty windows looking out on Ojai Avenue. It stands on a mostly-empty, 1.18 acre lot. Several years ago, owner Jim Miller applied for permits to build two structures totaling 11,000 square feet. The permits were approved in December l994, but building was never started.
Mullane recently contacted Miller and encouraged him to reconsider the development. Miller, who has a construction business in San Luis Obispo, welcomed the city’s interest and support, but has not yet decided what to do with the property.
“I’ve been one hundred percent absent from Ojai for over a decade,” he said. “I need to come down to Ojai, to reconnect and to see what feels right. I think the Planning Commission knows of my work, and knows that if I build something that it’ll be really cool and substantial and well done, but I want to make sure that whatever I do will be successful.”
During their discussion, members of the Planning Commission noted that a few businesses in town already include housing. Commissioner Laurence Nicklin mentioned a shop near the Ojai Theater on South Signal, with a shop downstairs and a residential unit upstairs, among other examples.
“People are living in the space next to the Miller property,” added Commissioner Marleen Luckman. “So it’s not unprecedented downtown. I do like the idea of people living upstairs [in commercial properties], because it’s away from traffic, with more privacy. I think it might be a good idea to try that.”
Commission Chair Kathleen Nolan floated the idea of using the Miller property as a test of the concept of mixing residential with commercial use. This raised questions of standards, and revisions to the city’s general plan for development. Mullane asked if the Commission would like to set limits for residential use in commercial developments, or a minimum threshold. The Commission did not provide specific answers, but by consensus approved the concept.
“What I heard is that it is appropriate to consider the Jim Miller property for a rezone, and not put him through the purgatory and the uncertainty of this [Planning Commission] process,” Mullane said. “He needs to make that decision, because that would require a revision to his project, and a request to do the rezone, and the money that’s involved in putting together those applications.”