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October 15, 2008

Desert Hot Springs Planning Commission, October 14

The meeting of the Planning Commission began with Jerry Ogburn providing an overview of the proposed downtown redevelopment. Following that was a report from the sign code sub-committee which is that they're still working.

Masonry Walls

Then they moved on to the subject of masonry walls. Commissioner King wanted the commission to consider the possibility of softening the requirement that when any wooden fence collapsed it has to be replaced by a masonry wall. He suggested that if 50% or less of a fence that had been maintained in good condition collapsed that the owner be permitted to replace it with a new wooden fence, so long as it is done within, say, one month, subject to approval by the Planning Commission. The commission meets only once a month, I think, so that could require some fast acting by the homeowner. Some other commissioners noted that a homeowner could appeal the requirement for a masonry wall, even if the requirement wasn't changed. Nick Sargent rose during public comments to point out that no one even bothered to come to the Planning Commission now for permission to repair a wooden fence. They just did it. I have to agree with that. The wooden fence at a house on Cactus Drive fell down this past summer and just lay collapsed for some weeks. Now it's back up as a good wooden fence. Rudy Acosta said the RDA had the ability to loan money for masonry wall construction within the redevelopment area. Alternate Commissioner Bob McCroskery said the commission should "stop pussy-footing," by which he meant (I believe) that he was all for masonry walls. No action was taken.

"Granny Units"

A "Granny" unit is pretty much the same as a "mother-in-law" unit, but some (I think) consider "mother-in-law" unit to be politically incorrect. Why "Granny" unit is any better, I have no idea. Anyway, Commissioner King wanted the commission to consider revising setback rules to make it a little easier to build "Granny" units. Currently, there is a requirement for a 20-foot setback from the rear of the property. He proposed that the rear setback be reduced to 10 feet and side setbacks to 5 feet. The height of any unit would be limited to 10 feet at the setback limit. For each four feet in from the setback limit, the height limit would increase by 1 foot. Windows would be restricted to assure privacy for any neighbors. Other commissioners pointed out that there was no demand for this change, so no action was taken.

Miracle Hill

This was a request by Alibaba Farzaneh to revise the zoning on a 15-acre parcel he owns at the corner of Miracle Hill and Pierson Boulevard. Currently it is zoned "Visitor-Serving." He wants 2.5 acres changed to General Commercial and the rest of it to Residential-Visitor-Serving High-Density. I believe he envisions townhouse condos with hot water where people might take spa treatments in the European style. That is, they could rent a condo for several months to soak in the hot water to effect a real cure, rather than the vacation style that other spas in town are set up for.

His request was opposed by Living Waters Spa owners Jeff and Judy Bowman as well as Bruce Abney (is that right?) of El Morocco Inn & Spa. They consider this hot water area to be too valuable to risk having it built up as anything other than hot water spas. Mr. Farzaneh did seem to indicate that he had actually completed no specific designs yet, as he needed to get the zoning change before investors would consider a project. And if the zoning change was approved, the area could be developed as purely residential with no spa facilities at all, I believe. Mr. Farzaneh's point seemed to be that no big hotel could be developed on that 15-acre sloping land (it drops 100 feet from Pierson to Desert View). Mr. Farzaneh seemed to be of the opinion (although he wasn't completley explicit on this point) that with its current zoning the site had to developed as one big hotel. But with the zoning change he could develop smaller facilities. He vigorously asserted that he never builds just houses and would never build anything to take away from our city's unique qualities.

It wasn't clear to me why, other than the 2.5 acres of general commercial zoning, he couldn't develop the rest of his acreage exactly as he envisions it while it remains zoned as Visitor-Serving.

The commission voted 3-2 to deny the zoning change. A major factor in that was, I believe, that they had recently decided not to make any zoning changes while the general plan was being worked on. Mr. Farzaneh said he would make copies and distribute a report on the whole project that had been prepared by former assistant city manager Steve Mendoza which, he said, the commission should have already had on hand. I expect the issue will return.

Art In Public Places

Issues discussed on the "art in public places" ordinance included:

How much? The ordinance was written saying that 1% of the value of new development would go for art. Rudy Acosta said that Palm Desert's rate was set at ½%. Commissioner King said he'd like it to be 1½% to help make up for lost time. They settled on 1%.

Maintenance. Who would do the maintenance and how would it be paid for? Rudy Acosta pointed out that there would be two problems if the public art fund handled the maintenance. First, it would be nearly impossible to estimate how much perpetual maintenance might cost and, second, it would be difficult to train city staff on the maintenance of an unpredictable number of media that might be used in public art. Basically, the ordinance will say that maintenance will be the responsibility of the land owner with the exact mechanism to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Letters of credit. Anywhere that the ordinance allowed "letters of credit, bonds or cash" in securing payment for the public art, "letters of credit" has been stricken. The city wants bonds or cash up front. Period.

Fred Bell, CEO of the Building Industry Association, got up to make two basic points. First is that all the fees that have to be paid simply to start building are such that the "economics don't work," meaning it makes no sense to build now. True enough, but I think there's a lot more to it than the fees, which developers seemed happy to pay a couple of years ago. And, in my opinion, if nothing's getting built then there's no reason NOT to pass the art in public places requirement, because it won't make any difference. No building. No payments. The only time the 1% assessment is going to have a negative impact on a development is when it's right at the margin and needs that 1% to be profitable.

Second, Mr. Bell, said the 1% fee is a tax and the city is making an indefensible attempt to get around the Mitigation Fee Act. The public art fees in other valley cities were approved before the Mitigation Fee Act.

Dean Gray rose to speak and urged the commission to pass the ordinance "with enthusiasm." They did pass it (although I'm not sure how much enthusiasm there was) 4-0-1, Commissioner Stewart abstaining. He was very concerned about the maintenance problem, suggesting that some public art could be damaged by our winds, left unrepaired, and thereby become public nuisances. I think that the shrewd developer will minimize his ongoing expenses by putting up public art that is especially resistant to wind damage. A pyramid of cinder blocks, for example.

Wireless Antennaes

Resident Nick Sargent rose to warn the public commission of the risks and dangers of approving cell phone antennaes that had any sort of camouflage attached to them. You will recall that despite Sprint's assurances that its fake palm trees could handle winds of 120 MPH, most of their "palm fronds" eventually landed on Mr. Sargent's property.

The first item was a Verizon proposal for some invisible "stealth" antennaes to be attached to the Agua Caliente Hotel. A resident of Sky Haven, a Ms. Costa, got up to say she thought the proposal was a fine idea and that while it had been years since she had attended a city council or any other city meeting, she was impressed and quite pleased that so many people would put such an effort into taking care of other people's problems. She thanked the commission vociferously. Chairman Gerardi invited her to future meetings.

The Verizon antenna was approved 5-0.

The T-Mobile proposal was not also at the Agua Caliente Hotel as the agenda said, but was to be at the MSWD water tanks near Casa Loma and Rochelle Road (a little north of Two Bunch Palms Resort). T-Mobile offered either a 60-foot fake elm tree or three light poles (2 at 45 feet and 1 at 60 feet). The MSWD wants the light poles because they need more light on that site. The majority of the commission thought the three poles were unsightly. I don't think any serious consideration was given to the 60-foot elm (do elms even grow here?). They asked the T-Mobile rep to come back with another design, such as a traditional old water tower, which the T-Mobile rep said they would do.

Commissioner King asked the staff to pursue correction of the handpainted sign on the furniture store that opened in the former Revivals location at Palm and Hacienda.

Commissioner Stewart asked that someone take a look at the still new street lights on Pierson west of West. He said many had become damaged and were crooked or missing their globes.

Coming up:

In staff comments we were reminded that an annexation meeting will be held at the Carl May center on Wednesday the 22nd from 6:30 to 8:30 PM. All residents and owners in the areas proposed to be annexed have been invited by mail, but the meeting is open to all.

Design Review Sub-Committee, October 16, 2 PM; November 6, 2 PM

Sign Code Sub-Committee, October 20, 5:30 PM; October 27, 5:30 PM; November 3, 5:30 PM and November 10, 5:30 PM

City Council, October 21, 5 PM; November 4, 5 PM

Planning Commission, November 11, 6 PM

Filed under Coachella Valley,Desert Hot Springs | permalink | October 15, 2008 at 01:07 AM


Its comments like this that help keep our city down. If everyone who is critical instead spent their time trying to find valid solutions instead of tearing each other down, our city would be a much better place. I do my best but I am one person. I could use other citizen's help.

Posted by: gabriel king at Nov 5, 2008 11:01:19 AM

Gabriel can insist on adding the most expensive mortgaged lip gloss to those savory pork chop projects all he likes....it's still not going to get them done in time for dinner nor will they be more delicious, nor will they add value to the farm.

Posted by: at Oct 17, 2008 7:19:45 AM

You are right on with the granny houses. I built one behind my
home in Bakersfield, no problem. I would love to see this set back
issue get resolved.

Posted by: Roger at Oct 15, 2008 1:25:40 PM

Please note that the Planning Commission Design Review for tomorrow, October 16 at 2PM has been canceled because of lack of applicants.

Also, in regard to the "granny" flat issue, what I feel that my fellow commissioners fail to understand is that the reason why there is "no demand for change" is because our setbacks make it practically impossible to build a unit on the average lot. So no one ever sees a formal request. I have seen many enquiries for these "granny flats" at the DHS counter, only to be rejected once setbacks are taken into consideration. I also have drawn many of these units in the rest of the valley from Bermuda Dunes Country Club to the hills of Rancho Mirage. The unintended consequences of our city's unrealistic setback restrictions is that some DHS citizens with children living at home who have older parents will be forced to put them in nursing homes prematurely. It is sad that even though most other valley city's allow for these "granny flats", elitism and lack of vision in DHS does not. Granny flats strengthens important family bonds, preventing premature deaths in nursing homes from loneliness. Current setbacks devalue our home values because those who want these units will simple move elsewhere where they are allowed. My suggestion of a reduce in the setbacks while reducing the height and insure privacy is the very same standard as what other city's have done successfully. The reason why there is no "proof of demand" is because once the applicant discovers that the setbacks eliminate the possibility of a unit being built, the idea dies at the front counter.... and then mom or dad are shipped to die alone in nursing home. Not family friendly. Maybe next year we will pass this needed legislation.



Posted by: gabriel king at Oct 15, 2008 10:08:14 AM

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