Hotel proposal gets OK … finally

This revised design for the Oliver Hotel project at McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard was approved by the Santa Clarita Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

Eight years after a hotel was first proposed for the intersection of McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard – and six weeks after an unimpressed Santa Clarita Planning Commission told the site’s latest developer to dress up his “rather plain” architecture – the so-called Oliver Hotel project was finally approved Tuesday night.

But not without one more bit of drama.

Only after Commissioner Charles Heffernan pushed for, and got, the promise of further aesthetic tweaks to the entrance design of the proposed hotel did the panel finally approve the five-story, 134-room project on the site of the old Greens miniature golf course.

The commission voted 5-0 in favor, closing the book at last on one of the city’s longest-pending development matters.

The project also includes a free-standing restaurant.

“It’s a great city, and we look forward to being here for generations,” developer Hunter Oliver, smiling, told The Signal afterward.

Oliver also said he was in negotiations with a couple of companies to give the hotel a high-end brand name – with one possibility being “Element by Westin.”

Oliver was forced to go before the commission a second time, with an architectural Plan B, after the commission, during its Oct. 4 meeting, derided his earlier designs as not worthy of one of Santa Clarita’s showcase intersections.

“We can do better,” Heffernan had said back on Oct. 4, when the panel suggested specific enhancements.

The commission had no issues with the scale of the project, just with its exterior look – which Tim Burkhart, vice chairperson of the commission, had said “strikes me as rather plain.”

But no more.

“We worked with the Oliver group for about three weeks on the (new) design,” said David Peterson, an associate planner with the city.

The changes that finally passed muster with the commission included:

* More variation to the hotel’s roofline.

* Enhancements to the ground floor and entry area.

* Varying window sizes — “to give the building more visual interest,” Peterson said.

* Changing window “treatments” by adding balcony and railing elements.

* New paint colors – “still earth tones, but different colors that provide greater contrast than the previous proposal,” Peterson said.

* Additional stonework on the façade of the building.

The final steps in the long approval process came after Heffernan lobbied for further enhancements to the entrance – “some other way to make you feel you’ve entered a nice hotel.”

Otherwise, Heffernan said, the new design looks “100 percent better” than its predecessor.

Oliver agreed to work with city planners to eliminate some parking spaces in front – reducing the project’s original 220-space lot — and to enhance the landscaping. That finally sealed the deal.

Tuesday’s action ended a saga that began in 2008, when Sheraton proposed a seven-story, 200-room hotel that was approved by the commission in 2009. But there was significant opposition from nearby residents, and that approval was appealed to the City Council.

The council asked Sheraton to conduct further public outreach, but Sheraton never responded and the project languished and eventually died.

Tuesday’s approval can also be appealed to the City Council.

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