Plans for the Sand Canyon Resort may be in jeopardy after Tuesday evening, as the city’s Planning Commission held its fourth public hearing on the project since November and is expected to formally recommend a denial next month.
Members of the Planning Commission unanimously voted this week to direct city planning staff to draft a resolution denying the proposed resort development, which includes a hotel, inn, villas, spa, restaurants, ballrooms, conference space and outdoor recreation area. The land for the development is currently zoned as open space.
The Planning Commission is expected to consider officially rejecting the resort project when city staff return with a formal denial resolution — listing reasons for denial and commissioners’ concerns — at its June 1 meeting, according to Jason Crawford, director of economic development for the city.
City staff is currently reviewing Tuesday’s meeting to ensure it accurately represents the commission’s position and captures the important points in the denial resolution, according to Hai Nguyen, a city associate planner.
Among the issues raised by the commission Tuesday are completeness of the project, the proposed evacuation route, open space and the economic viability of the proposed development.
The Development and Sand Canyon
Commissioners maintained Tuesday that the proposed project is incompatible with the Sand Canyon Special Standard District — meant to “maintain, preserve and enhance the rural and equestrian character of Sand Canyon,” according the city’s municipal code — and the city’s design guidelines.
“Yes, it’s consistent,” said Commissioner Renee Berlin, acknowledging the city’s architectural consultant’s conclusion that the proposed resort’s architecture is appropriate for the location. “But the goal of the Sand Canyon Special Standards District is to encourage the rural equestrian area. And this project is not consistent with the ultimate goal.”
Berlin also said she did not want to approve a project that would “chip away” at that purpose and “set a precedent” for future developments in Sand Canyon.
Nguyen told commissioners that the applicant Steve Kim, the owner of the existing Sand Canyon Country Club, had made “enhancements” to the architecture for the commission’s review. Upon her review, Commissioner Lisa Eichman said the project still isn’t ready.
“This project is a mess right now. It’s not ready,” said Eichman, expressing concern about sending an incomplete project to the City Council.
Commissioner Tim Burkhart agreed with Eichman’s assessment.
“The change of zone to make this community commercial island in the middle of a community that actually has written special standards to preserve its rural equestrian lifestyle, I don’t know if I can cure that in my mind,” said Burkhart.
A proposed emergency access road connecting Robinson Ranch Road, south of the 75-acre subject property, and Oak Spring Canyon Road above the development also fell short for commissioners.
“It’s still not a hard evacuation,” said Berlin of the road that would serve as an evacuation route in the event of a wildfire for the area. “I appreciate that Mr. Kim is trying to find a route, is offering it up, but I just don’t think it goes far enough.”
The city staff report notes that the project is located within a zone where the severity of a fire hazard is very high. It also states that the proposed emergency access road was designed to meet Fire Department standards and the city’s satisfaction.
“It would be nice to have a slam-dunk evacuation route out of here that would benefit everybody and make things good,” said Burkhart. “I think that a little bit of effort has been made here and this is certainly not the time when I would expect it to be detailed out and completely done. But I don’t think there’s been enough effort put into it to convince me that there’s going to be any viability to it whatsoever.”
Since the March public hearing, Kim has proposed dedicating a minimum of 72 acres of land to the city for open space to compensate for the 36 acres that he’d like changed from “open space” zoning to “community commercial” zoning.
“Changing something from open space in perpetuity, that’s a big deal,” said Commissioner Berlin. “And I don’t know if it’s ready for primetime players yet.”
Kim also altered his proposal to remove nine oak villas proposed for the 75-acre property’s west end. The change frees up a 25-acre lot of open space that he proposed dedicating to the city, leaving 50 acres of Kim’s 300 acres for the proposed resort.
“It was originally intended by the applicant that by removing the oak villas on the west side of the property it would potentially reduce the number of oak tree removals,” said Nguyen of the change. “However, the relocation of the (water) detention basin and some reconfiguration of the development area grading would result in additional oak tree removals.”
Instead of 21 non-Heritage oak trees, the proposal now calls for the removal of 24.
“I don’t know if that can be cured by the applicant to my satisfaction,” Burkhart said of the open space issue.
Hunt Braly, a land use and real estate attorney with Poole Shaffery & Koegle LLP representing Kim, referred to the commissioners’ concerns as “legitimate and very serious.”
“We acknowledge that is not an easy decision that ultimately the City Council will have to make,” said Braly, referring to the choice of changing a 1996 city condition approved to preserve 300 acres of open space in perpetuity as part of the original development of the Sand Canyon Country Club.
“They will balance whether or not the economic benefits from this use of a former nine holes of golf and how it will enhance the existing golf course and make sure that it stays in operation and the benefits it will bring are worth making a change to what was approved in 1996,” Braly said.
Kim also proposed contributing $1.5 million toward the completion of the Sand Canyon trail, according to Nguyen.
In addition to commissioners’ concerns, 24 Sand Canyon residents voice their opposition to the project.
“Chief among our concerns is an increased danger to residents during evacuations, the permanent loss of open space granted in perpetuity, and preservation of the Sand Canyon Special Standards District,” said Dana Martin, a director on the board of the Sand Canyon Homeowners Assocation. “The people of Sand Canyon have spoken loud and clear. This resort is dangerous and threatens our way of life. We don’t want it.”
Six residents commented in favor of the development, saying the resort will increase property values, bring jobs and provide a place for visitors to stay on the east side of Santa Clarita.
“Something that we can be proud of, a well-planned and designed resort near our home is something we look forward to,” said Ellen Wilder, a Sand Canyon resident. “It will be nice to have restaurants, a spa, an area for my grandchildren to play.”
Commissioners will consider approving the resolution denying the proposed resort development June 1. Following that action, Kim can appeal the commission’s decision to the Santa Clarita City Council.
“This project deserves and needs to be before the City Council,” said Braly, adding that he planned to appeal a denial of the proposed project to the council, if that’s the ultimate ruling.