Planning Commission denies long-term stay hotel development

Commissioners recognize city’s need for temporary lodging, but cite inappropriate zoning

Planning Commission denies long-term stay hotel developmentBy BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The city’s Planning Commission denied the development of a proposed long-term stay hotel during it’s regular meeting on Tuesday. While commissioners acknowledged the city’s need for such a project, they deemed the development incompatible with the M-1 light industrial zoning designation.

The proposed construction plans included six units across two buildings on a roughly 1-acre parcel. Each two-story unit would consist of two bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room, outdoor patio and laundry/utility room.

Lindsey Engels of Arclogica, principal architect for the project, said the anticipated average length of stay would be 2-3 months.

“We’re expecting that the biggest user will be military families that are on short-term contracts,” she said. “But also people who are repairing their houses...whether it’s earthquake damage, mold remediation or they have a house fire. Or if somebody were to get a job in Ridgecrest and they need to move their family here, but are waiting to find their ‘true home.’”

“In all practical purposes, this appears more an apartment complex than a hotel,” said Commission Chair Warren Cox, who made the motion to deny the development. “I’m not sure it meets the criteria of M-1.”

But Engels, who phoned into the meeting, said it was “just like any other hotel – you check in and check out when you need to. Sometimes you just need a week, sometimes you need a couple months, sometimes a few days.”

The proposed location on the corner of West Inyokern Road and Inyo Street falls under M-1 zoning, which according to the Ridgecrest Municipal Code is purposed for small-scale industrial uses, retailing and administrative activities, wholesaling, storage, warehousing, limited food processing, research and development, company offices and other similar uses.

But it goes on to say that all Service Commercial District uses – which include hotels and other lodging – are permitted uses subject to the Planning Commission’s interpretation.

“If you look at the context … you have veterinarian, doctors offices, a drinking establishment and then you have a salon,” said Engels. “None of those are industrial either. So I do feel that I understand and hear what you’re saying, but the other uses that are directly adjacent are falling into more commercial services.”

“I appreciate this development,” said Commissioner Bill Farris Jr.. “Looking at it – it’s exactly what Ridgecrest is needing and looking for. But I agree, it’s not zoned correctly.”

The commission voted 4-0 to deny the development, Commissioner Solomon Rajaratnam abstaining. Rajaratnam recused himself from the discussion as the developer is a client of Mission Bank where he is manager.

During closing comments, Farris encouraged the developers to continue pursuing the project in a more appropriately zoned area, a sentiment shared by other commissioners.

“I think the Planning Commission would be overwhelmingly supportive of it,” added Cox.

In a follow-up interview, Engels said the property owner, Rick McClish, already has the land and is not looking to purchase more property for the proposed development.

“We are disappointed that we won’t be able to develop the project and unhappy that the city wasn’t able to tell us ‘no’ before we went to such great lengths to design a very nice project,” said McClish. “While our use is specifically and technically allowed in the zoning ordinance, planning staff and the commission made it clear with their unanimous vote that they don’t want a project like ours on M-1 property zoned for light industrial.

“If it is the intention of staff and the commission to deny uses that are currently ‘allowable,’ references to these ‘allowable’ uses should be stricken from the zoning ordinance. It is contradictory and misleading to say publicly you can allow a certain use when there is no intention to approve that use.”

“We’ve been discussing this project with the planning department for over a year now,” said Engels. “We just wish we could have known sooner that this would ultimately be denied.”

Story First Published: 2020-05-01