Feb. 21, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
There was standing room only Wednesday night at the special joint meeting of Ojai’s City Council and Planning Commission to discuss zoning amendments that will be part of the Housing Element Implementation. As part of the state-mandated Housing Element, Ojai must prove it can accommodate a portion of projected population growth, in part by designating properties qualified for affordable housing development through a special zoning “overlay.” The overlay adds another dimension to any existing zoning, allowing for higher density development, to the tune of approximately 20 units per acre. Council members and city staff have been considering a combination of properties from a list of 23 compiled by previous officials and consultants, though they are by no means restricted to choosing from this list.
The Carty family owns a parcel of land, one of the listed 23 possible overlay sites, along Maricopa Highway across from Nordhoff High School and the Ojai Meadows Preserve. They have approached city staff about the possibility of developing the property into an affordable senior housing complex. A representative of the Carty family, Lisa Plowman of Peikert Group Architects, LLP, gave a presentation on what the Carty family has proposed for the site, combining a concept review with consideration for the overlay.
“I am rather troubled by the process here tonight where some people could get up and give a 15-minute commercial,” commented Ojai resident Rod Greene.
“I have seen this same presentation three times,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “This is not the correct time or place to review this specific project.”
“I agree with Councilwoman Strobel; I think this is an inappropriate venue for these discussions,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.
“It wasn’t the easiest decision (to combine the concept review and overlay discussion),” countered Rob Mullane, Community Development director. “It is such a large site, staff thought it would be beneficial to at least have it introduced.”
Mayor Paul Blatz noted that prior to the joint special meeting, the “vast majority of communication from the public had to do with objections to the development of the Carty property.” Likewise, most public speakers also voiced opposition to the proposed project.
“I live in that neighborhood for a reason,” said Glen Bader, who lives near the Carty property. “Coming up with a multi-unit, two-story affordable housing project is not conducive to the area. How are we even thinking about developing these types of properties, when there are many people who are in danger of losing their homes? We do not have the growth in the community to have this happen, it’s ludicrous … I object to living next to that. I don’t see that as increasing the value of my property, I see that decreasing the value of my property, and I can see class-action lawsuits coming your way.”
Strobel reminded Bader that the city of Ojai is not building a single development itself, and is merely following state requirements. Ojai resident and Ojai Valley Defense Fund Secretary John Broesamle reminded meeting attendees of a different lawsuit from 1979 between the Carty family and the city of Ojai.
“Your predecessors included luminaries,” said Broesamle. “They saw this development as incompatible with the future of Ojai, and that is why the lot is vacant today.”
“I concur with those who oppose dense development on the Carty property,” said Ojai resident Jerry Dunn. Dunn suggested the City Council select numerous small developments instead of choosing the largest site. “That is how towns grow organically.”
“They have been waiting 100 years to do something with that property. It’s not right to try and stop them,” countered Ojai resident Denise Wizman, who also owns property being considered for the overlay.
“There is nothing prohibiting them from doing something within the zoning given them now,” clarified Blatz. The current zoning for the 14-1-acre site allows for one unit per acre.
With so much objection to utilizing the largest available parcel of land for one dense cluster of development, the general consensus of both public and elected officials was that the overlay should be applied to numerous parcels based mostly in the downtown corridor.
“We should consider more properties (not on the list of 23 sites),” suggested Ojai resident Mark Godfrey. “There are a number of vacant parcels in the downtown area, that’s a good way of controlling the impact (of development).”
Clapp suggested the City Council designate districts over which to apply the overlay, as opposed to individual parcels, but city attorney Joseph Fletcher cautioned that could result in over-building in certain areas. Planning Commissioner Paul Crabtree commented that he would like staff to consider walk-ability as a criterion for consideration for the overlay, in keeping with the Complete Streets Program the Planning Commission has been working on. Consultant Thomas Figg urged City Council to proceed in a timely fashion, as missing further deadlines for the Housing Element implementation process will result in Ojai being saddled with higher cumulative numbers.
“We have kind of done this in the worst way possible,” posited Commissioner Troy Becker. “By identifying parcels we’re giving tickets out … I think it’s an entitlement grab.”
Others appeared determined to make the best of a worst-case scenario.
“I would like to see the city’s properties come to the forefront, to see the city take the lead,” said Commissioner Steven Foster. “Kids who grew up here can’t afford to live here. We have got to think about that.”
Blatz polled the commissioners and council members, all of whom favored proceeding with the zoning overlay to many smaller parcels, such as city-owned properties, along with the former bowling alley and others. The matter was a discussion item, so no formal action was taken.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the Housing Element documents.