Sand Canyon resort plans to start over in new year

Steve Kim, who built himself up from a hardscrabble start in post-war Korea to a billionaire entrepreneur in Sand Canyon, is looking to bring a family-friendly five-star resort to the Santa Clarita Valley. PHOTOS BY Dan Watson / The Signal

The city of Santa Clarita is asking the Beverly Hills entrepreneur whose goal is to put a world-class resort in the quiet, equestrian-friendly community of Sand Canyon to start over, after a One-Stop Review the city issued earlier this month, a city official said Friday. 

“So officially we’re viewing this as a new project that would have to start from the beginning,” said Jason Crawford, Santa Clarita’s director of community development, referring to the process for any new development that includes an environmental review, public outreach and then a formal submission to the city’s Planning Commission.  

The One-Stop Review is “a preliminary design review of a plan concept,” according to Kevin Strauss, city communications specialist, adding that it’s an informational process only and does not lead to any approvals. 

Steve Kim, the man who has been trying to make Sand Canyon Resort and Spa a reality for more than five years now, remained confident Friday he will be able to convince the city of the massive benefits the community will see from the project, in a space where he’s already invested approximately $21 million.  

He said he hopes to have his new plans back in front of the city’s Planning Commission by June. The neighborhood group that’s fought the project reiterated its concerns via email Friday. 

Kim purchased the property, which was then Robinson Ranch Country Club, for $17 million back in 2016 after becoming a partial owner. He’s since spent more than $4 million in plans for the resort, according to previous reporting in The Signal. 

Santa Clarita City Council members voted 5-0 in July of 2021 to reject Kim’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s denial of his plans for a more than 380-room Sand Canyon Resort and Spa, which faced ardent opposition from a group of neighbors who coalesced to form the Stop the Sand Canyon Resort Task Force. The denial was “with prejudice,” meaning Kim had to wait a year before resubmission. 

City Council members shared concerns about traffic, fire evacuation routes and the fact that the original golf course approval in 2000 included a promise of 300 acres of open space that would be held in perpetuity. 

Kim’s initial response to the denial was to file a quarter-billion-dollar federal lawsuit against the city in October of 2021 alleging discrimination as the grounds for the rejection. 

Kim said he dismissed the suit in August because “I’m not going to apply for a new plan while we are fighting,” he said Friday.  

Now Kim is now trying what he hopes will be a more amenable tact, reducing the project in scope by about one-third, he said Friday, adding he hopes that people will see the massive benefits a destination resort will bring to the city. He asked for the preliminary review in November.  

“We dropped down to about 277 rooms and … we moved the development site a little bit toward the west and we created about 13 acres of park space,” Kim said, adding he wanted the park to look like botanical gardens at the Huntington Library.  

A few of the features listed on the city’s review include: a four-story main hotel with about 261 rooms and an Italian restaurant; four two-story villas with four suites each; a one-story spa building; a one-story “function building” that could act as either a ballroom/conference center/buffet restaurant; a one-story children’s building; a couple of pools; and nearly 350 parking spaces. 

In making his case this time around, Kim mentioned how the Ojai Valley Inn raised property values in that area, and noted a luxury retreat like the one he’s planning would do the same for Sand Canyon. He added that he would love to create an area where people can take their families to stay for a nice getaway, which doesn’t really exist in this part of the county.  

He also said the development would add another access point to the development through Oak Springs Canyon Road in response to the initial opposition of the project. 

A representative of the project’s main opposition, the Stop the Sand Canyon Resort Task Force, signaled the new year might include another fight over the resort plans, in an email Friday.  

“There is nothing substantially different in the developer’s recent submission to build a hotel on the grounds of the existing golf course in Sand Canyon,” said Alex Guerrero, a Santa Clarita resident and chair of the group. “A developer can submit a project as many times as they want and a community and its elected officials will continue to oppose it for many reasons, including the fact that there is only one way in and one way out of Sand Canyon and the voluminous amount of additional traffic in a high fire and high flood emergency evacuation area will almost certainly lead to tragedy.” 

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