New theater complex progresses

New theater complex progressesBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

Plans for a new commercial center, which currently include a 54,000-square-foot, 10-screen cinema, moved forward with the approval by the Ridgecrest Planning Commission last month. The proposed site for the 17-acre development, names “Oasis at China Lake,” is on the east side of China Lake Boulevard between Rader Avenue and Bowman Road.

Phase I of the project includes the cinema, an office building, retail buildings and two fast-food restaurants. A second phase is proposed, but the timing and the specifics have yet to be determined.

The development agreement included no anticipated start date originally. According to Developer Bob Davidson of G&L China Lake, there’s “no way to know exactly when” building will start with all of the requirements following the agreement’s approval.

Upon learning that the city ordinance required each development agreement to include a proposed starting date, Davidson said that three years was a safe proposal, though he hoped to start building much sooner.

“We’ve been working on this project about two years,” added Derrill Whitten of Cornerstone Engineering.

“The developer has been sitting on this property a long time waiting for the right kind of project. He arrived at the cinema because there’s a need for it.

“This is not a ‘pie in the sky’ thing. I work with people on occasion who get something like this approved and then thy go out and hunt for a tenant. That’s not the case here. This developer is ready to move forward with this and we hope to see it under construction within a year.”

The developer requested a variance for parking stall requirements. Rather than the city standard of 9-foot by 20-foot stalls, the plan requests 9.5-foot by 18-foot stalls, most of which will be angled at 60 degrees. Another request is that one-way-drive aisles be reduced from 19 to 17 feet wide.

The city’s Planning Consultant Asoka Herath said that a traffic consultant study indicated that the parking lot would still function at an “A-plus” level of service after the size changes.

Whitten said that he drives a big truck and even though the spaces are shallower, the increased width and angle make it easier to park.

In regard to the drive aisle, he said, the variance request was a matter of safety.

“When you have big, wide drive aisles, people drive faster than they do in tight, narrow spaces,” said Whitten. “It makes people drive slower and it makes the parking lot safer. The whole package works together pretty well.”

Commissioner Bill Farris Jr. suggested that it might be better to request the city to change its general plan or municipal code.

“If we grant a variance any time it’s asked for, I could see that running into problems,” said Farris. “With that being said, is there a way for us to approve this with that going through council first?”

Whitten said the city’s requirements don’t actually include dimensions for parking stalls.

He said the city’s engineering manual includes typical examples of standard parking lots. But he encouraged the idea of the city adopting up-to-date requirements that would provide the Planning Com- mission with some flexibility.

“But right now, our only vehicle is to ask for a variance,” said Whitten.

“What is the impact to you if the variance is not granted?” asked Commissioner Kyle Blades.

Whitten said that the parking lot would have to be redesigned, with a loss of 50-60 spaces in the process. “The site won’t function as well.”

Acing Commission Chair Solomon Rajaratnam said he noticed that the more than 700 planned parking space exceeded the required 549 spaces required by the city’s ordinance. He said he didn’t think extra parking was a bad thing, but asked what the reasoning was.

Davidson said the cinema parking was determined by the number of seats, rather than square footage of the development.

Farris made a motion that the commission approve the tentative parcel map, site plan review, variances and development agreement, including the inclusion of 36 months to begin construction and a request for the city to update parking stall standards. The item passed 4-0 with Commission Chair Warren Cox absent.

The development agreement will proceed to the Ridgecrest City Council for approval before the project can move forward.

Pictured: Signage advertises the site of the new development — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2019-08-02