Sand Canyon resort sent back to drawing board amid various concerns

Site plan of the Sand Canyon resort project as proposed on the northeast corner of Sand Canyon Road and Robinson Ranch Road. Courtesy of the city of Santa Clarita

Santa Clarita planning commissioners Tuesday sent the Sand Canyon resort proposal back to the drawing board amid continued concerns, focusing largely on emergency evacuations. 

Developer Steve Kim, who owns the Sand Canyon Country Club, wants to add a resort and spa across 77 acres of his 300-acre country club on the northeast corner of Sand Canyon Road and Robinson Ranch Road. It would include multilevel hotels, villas, dining options and outdoor recreation. He is also looking to gain a zone change from “open space” to “community commercial” on half of the four site lots. 

Kim presented Tuesday a proposed revision of the project, which would eliminate the nine, one-story villas located on the western portion of the site. The move would reduce the immediate area from more than 31 acres to 24 acres and save nine non-heritage oak trees from being removed. 

As it stands, the project does not offer a secondary access road for evacuations in case of a wildfire, rather access via a private road that leads back to Sand Canyon Road. Commissioner Lisa Eichman said, “I just don’t think that’s acceptable … if we decide to go forward on this project,” to which commissioners agreed. 

Commissioners said they also wanted to see finished plans, including architectural plans, before making a decision. 

The project garnered opposition from local environmentalists and Sand Canyon residents who have said that multistory buildings, under commercial zoning, could change the neighborhood’s quiet, rural lifestyle with increased traffic and noise, as well as posing a risk with potential evacuations should a wildfire occur. To date, the city has received at least 187 comments, with more than 100 in opposition, according to Hai Nguyen, a city associate planner. 

Those who voiced support said the resort could increase property values, bring a venue for large community events and offer jobs for veterans and the homeless. 

Kim’s supporters said the developer has the right to transform his resort, as it is his property, while those in opposition say he is trying to build over dedicated open space — which was set aside “in perpetuity” as a condition of approval for a golf course Kim renamed as the Sand Canyon Country Club after he bought the property in 2016. 

The City Council, which has the final say on the project, can impose new conditions of approval or consider prior restrictions imposed on the property, as well as approve or deny the zone change, according to Nguyen. 

“We’re willing to donate the land, left of the site, permanently to the city as permanent open space to the Open Space District,” said Hunt Braly, land use and real estate attorney with Poole Shaffery & Koegle LLP, who said the proposed donation could be less than 42 acres in addition to open space located off-site. 

Real estate company CBRE told city officials last month they need to update their 2019 market demand study on the project due to the hospitality industry being impacted by the pandemic. Meanwhile, the resort would bring an estimated 500 jobs and an economic impact of $80 million a year, per a Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp. study, cited by Kim, who previously said the study estimated $57 million. SCVEDC President Holly Schroeder did not return a request for comment regarding the report. 

“We just would urge you not to use that (CBRE memo) as an excuse to deny the project. Mr. Kim was not going to build a project that does not work, economically, not only for him but for the community,” said Braly. 

If approved, the resort could start welcoming guests by 2022, according to Kim. 

“I think our project will be open in two years, hopefully, from now …,” he said. “We are ready to break ground as soon as possible with the project.”  

Planning commissioners are expected to take another look at the project May 18. 

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