Santa Paula Times
S.P. City Planning Commission continues hearing on Hardison property development
Published:  April 29, 2016

The Planning Commission continued the hearing on a proposed 53-home development on the site of the historic Hardison House after more than a dozen speakers questioned the plan.

Chairman Ike Ikerd was absent from the meeting, one reason cited by commissioners as a reason to continue the hearing for the Ojai Road development that would include a 5-acre private hillside-walking trail maintained by HOA (Home Owner Association) fees.

The 19-acre parcel holds the residence and barn built in the 1880s by Wallace Libbey Hardison, a co-founder of the Union Oil and Limoneira companies. 

Williams Homes Inc. of Santa Clarita wants city permission to build 53 single-family homes on about half of the site, leaving a stretch of hillside behind the property intact. Williams has built several developments in the river valley including homes above Santa Paula Hospital.

The company purchased the property in 2014 and plans to keep the historic home and barn — the latter which will be moved closer to the residence and renovated — on a 1/3 acre parcel, the largest lot in the single-family home development. Two other structures on the property would be demolished.

An open space would be left in front of the home fronting Ojai Road.

Williams Executive Vice President Keith Herren told the Planning Commisssion that he owns property in Wheeler Canyon where he plans to eventually live.

The average lot size in the development, Rosewood, would be 5,400 square feet but the smallest is 4,500. All would be single-family homes. The reason for the meeting was for the Planning Commission to consider reductions in setbacks and allow more density among other issues prompting a special overlay.

Herren said the company wants to “cluster the homes on the flat part of the land,” saving the hillside view shed.

“It’s really called smart growth, that’s conscientious growth…”

Whenever Williams comes into a community, “We like to take from the community,” using history and prevailing home designs to create new homes that Herren said would reflect the farmhouse, barn and a Spanish influence in “elements and accents” of home design.

He did question city costs for development: impact fees for the proposed project would be $52,000 per unit, plan check and other fees $12,000 per unit for a total of $2.8 million and more if the city adopts a proposed 19 percent increase, “unprecedented costs…

“That’s a lot when you sell homes in the mid-$400,000…what it does is impact affordability.”

Herren also noted the General Plan Maintenance Fee is $260,000, “So we’re basically covering the General Plan Update…I have a concern about that,” that he said would be pursued.

When it came to public comment none supported the plan itself or specific aspects namely having access to the new development via Fuchsia Lane.

Dick Yamamoto questioned water use and traffic and asked that a “minimalistic” approach be used for the former.

Mary Cain noted that the “integrity” of the property and its historical value must be considered and Kevin Byer questioned new traffic on an already busy thoroughfare.

Amina Bancroft read a statement by Amber Mickelson noting that the project should be subject to a full Environmental Impact Review.

Several Fuchsia Lane area residents objected to the access issue especially near an existing preschool, which they and Herren said could be solved with the creation of an emergency only access.

Firefighter Jesse Phillips told the council “I know the importance of access,” and it could be arranged for emergency responders.

“We have 42 homes,” in the Fuchsia area, “and we have only one exit…why do they need two when roughly they would be the same size or community right now?”

The project should be no more than 30 homes said Sheryl Hamlin who noted the “upper slopes” are banned from development by city code.

“This is not classic clustering,” as described but rather, “cramming homes together…why wasn’t there a second alternative?”

Density, more than five homes per acre, also drew concern from some commissioners as did water issues although Commissioner Mike Sommer complimented Williams on improving the property which he said had been “an eyesore…”

Commissioner John Demers asked if purple piping would be installed for recycled water use and was told by Planner Chris Williamson that with new state guidelines on blending water to minimize chlorides alternate piping is not required. 

Demers said there was “sleight of hand calling it a 19-acre parcel,” and basing the density on same, when the homes will be on a much smaller footprint. 

“I’m familiar with lot sizes that is an incredibly small lot size,” which although is “becoming more standard” due to SOAR and other factors, Demers said would create “living conditions that are less than desirable…”

 Affordable homes have smaller lots said Herren and a survey showed of 71 recent home sales in Santa Paula, 60 homes sold between $400,000-$500,00 with 11 that sold for more than $500,000.

“That’s where you get the most buyers,” he said of the $400,000-$500,000 range, “that’s the sweet spot,” of affordability.

Traffic consultant Ryan Kelly told commissioners that said mitigation measures approved for Limoneira’s residential project would be enough to address the traffic concerns. And Shane Parker, an environmental consultant for the project, said increase in water use has already been factored into the city’s growth projections.

Acting Chairman Fred Robinson said a recent visit to the Camarillo Ranch made him think that the Hardison House could have a use as a community-gathering place.

“I looked at that home and thought my gosh wouldn’t it wonderful if Santa Paula has something like this,” and he noted he is not “comfortable” with assurances that the house would be maintained by new owners.

Although Williams Homes has a “reputation for being a good developer” Robinson said, “I have to share with you and all my friends in the city it breaks my heart to have this happen…I think it’s too dense, cracker box” homes that “are very crowded on small lots — is that what we want around that beautiful historic home?”

The commission asked that Williams Homes work with city staff to explore changes to the density as well as the concerns about access on Fuchsia Lane. The meeting was continued until May 24.