July 18, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Proposed buildings more than 25 feet tall, in Ojai’s residential areas, would be flagged for review rather than have a strict 25-foot height limit if the City Council accepts a recommendation reached by the Ojai Planning Commission Wednesday.
During the last state-mandated Housing Element cycle, the City Council and members of the public expressed consternation over the requirement that cities allow potential affordable housing projects under a zoning overlay that gives developers the ability to build to three stories. With the stated aim of protecting Ojai’s hallmark vistas and small-town feel, Council members directed city staff to investigate building height restrictions and subsequent Zoning Code modifications. Currently, the Ojai Zoning Code allows a maximum building height of 30 to 35 feet, depending upon a building’s zoning and use.
“I’m pretty good with what we have on the books right now,” said Commissioner Kathleen Nolan. “I think detail could be almost limiting, if we did have to go in and proscribe what features and heights would be allowable.”
“I can agree with that,” contributed Commissioner Steven Foster. “To limit ourselves to a certain height is a little onerous.”
Commission Vice Chair John Mirk pointed out that on numerous Victorian homes, ceilings and rooflines can be quite high, with a very aesthetically-pleasing building as the end result. Mirk also offered the example of the city of Carmel, which uses the average roofline in city planning, as opposed to a flat building height limit.
“If we reduce the height limit below 30 feet, then it’s going to become more complicated,” agreed the newest Commissioner, Orval Osborne. “The process we have now is the design review process. My problem with that is it’s so flexible that is doesn’t provide any certainty. This may be where City Council is coming from.”
Nolan added that any specific determinations, such as height limits, should be ideally decided on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
Community Development Director Rob Mullane informed the Commission that Council has allocated $30,000 for neighborhood planning and those discussions will likely begin before summer is over.
Mullane also told the Commission that currently, as an administerial interpretation of the Zoning Code, his office flags all project proposals for buildings taller than 20 feet — regardless of the number of proposed stories — to send to the Planning Commission for review. He offered the option of codifying this informal, Council-sanctioned arrangement as a more permanent protective measure.
Mullane also noted that a few recently approved project proposals have features that violate the set height limits, such as the cupola tower on the Ojai Valley Community Hospital remodel, yet the Planning Commission did not find these projects objectionable.
Osborne, Nolan, Nicklin and Foster stated their preference of codifying a 25-foot height “trigger” to send proposals through the design review process, rather than modifying existing height limits.
The Commission also heard presentations by Gerard Kapuscik, with the Ventura Watershed Protection District and Bill O’Brien, with the Waste to Energy group, regarding locating a bio-digester in the Ojai Valley.
Kapuscik, Project Manager with the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, gave the Commission a presentation on the Ventura River Watershed Bio-digester Feasibility Study, conducted by his organization in conjunction with Waste to Energy.
“The intent is to look at the potential feasibility of the use of organic waste in the Ventura River watershed,” said Kapuscik. “Waste is nothing more than another resource that hasn’t found a useful home.”
Essentially, horse and livestock manure in the area has contributed to excessive nutrient content in the Ventura River watershed. One possible solution could be to build a facility that processes this manure, using methane to create energy that creates a byproduct that can be readily sold as soil amendment.
“We have found 50 total tons per day (of applicable manure) could support a facility like this,” said Kapuscik.
With this, Kapuscik estimates such a facility could potentially create energy to power approximately 200 homes for a year. What remains to be seen is whether such an undertaking could prove profitable if ranchers would be charged a $35-per-ton fee for disposal of the manure.
VWPD will be accepting public comments via email to email@example.com until July 31. Visit www.vcwatershed.org/new to view the report.
The Ojai Planning Commission will begin discussing the current Housing Element Aug. 9, at 6 p.m. at Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.