Tulare is one step closer to having a new hotel, but some community members aren’t happy about it.
At the Jan. 17 Tulare City Council meeting, the council voted 4-0 — with councilman David Macedo absent — to change the city’s general plan concerning a parcel at M Street and the southwest corner of Cartmill Avenue.
The change will allow the construction of a large hotel complex across the street from the Presidential Estates subdivision. The General Plan Update changes the zoning from low density residential to community commercial. The city council also voted to approve a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to include a 75-foot freeway sign.
The decision overturns a Nov. 28 decision by the Tulare Planning Commission, which denied the request to update the general plan after hearing from residents of Presidential Estates and the Oak Mobile Home Park. The residents argued that the region is zoned residential and a commercial development is not compatible with homes, a school, park and fire station.
Dennis Sunderland of Tulare Bethel Association of God and Monterey Dynasty appealed the planning commission’s decision to the city council.
Monterey Dynasty and the church have a joint agreement to build a hotel on the vacant lot and needed the General Plan to be amended in order to move forward with their development. During the city council meeting the hotel in question was said to be a Hilton Garden Inn.
The proposed development will be a 24,500 square foot, 136-room, five storey hotel located on a 4.74-acre vacant lot. The project also includes a 4,000 square foot café, 60-seat wedding venue, restaurant/bar, and a 400-seat convention hall for business conferences/meetings and similar events.
Hilton Says No Plans for Hotel in Tulare
During the public hearing, many community and council members were in favor of the general plan change based on the assumption that the hotel in question was a Hilton Garden Inn.
Sunderland said that the building and operation of the hotel will be handled by a management company, and the management company was in negotiations with Hilton officials.
Sunderland and Monterey Dynasty are still choosing between two management companies, and did not release either of their names. Sunderland also brought brochures to the meeting provided by Hilton officials describing the chain’s energy efficiency.
The Voice contacted Hilton Worldwide and Olga Harris, development assistant at the corporate head quarters, said, “I’m not showing anything,” when asked about negotiations with Tulare.
For a second opinion Harris referred the Voice to Patrick Speer, Senior Director of Development for California.
Speer, who works in the Los Angeles regional office, said Hilton Gardens did not have a franchise profile on Tulare and had not heard of any negotiations. I asked Speer who a developer would contact if they wanted to build a Hilton Gardens in California. He said, “that would be me.”
Jan Lazarus, president of the home owner’s board for Presidential Estates, finds it hard to believe that a hotel will ever be built at that location. She said in her 30 years being involved in real estate she has never seen a hotel built behind an interchange with no highway visibility. She has also never seen a hotel built between a fire station and church, and wonders how such a location could qualify for a liquor license.
Council Member Greg Nunley said that he didn’t base his vote on the fact that Hilton Gardens might be the hotel under consideration. He felt that the developers fulfilled all the requirements and followed the rules, so the city council didn’t have any justification to deny them the zone change.
Nunley also said that it doesn’t matter if the brand is a Hilton Gardens or not. If Sunderland and Monterey Dynasty want to put something other than a four- or five-star hotel on that lot, they would have to apply for a new CUP. Nunley said it’s unlikely a new CUP would be approved, though.
Newly-elected Councilman Jose Sigala agreed with Nunley’s sentiment.
“When you tell me you are going to do something and you don’t do it, we may be reluctant to approve any of your projects in the future,” Sigala said.
Regardless whether a hotel is built or not, the owners of the property potentially received a huge financial windfall with the new zoning designation. The price of the vacant lot, which can vary due to the market, went from approximately $350,000 to $1,422,000 when the city council changed the zoning from residential to commercial retail.
Community is Split on General Plan Update
During the public hearing, six Tulare residents spoke against the development and seven spoke in favor.
But some who spoke had ties to the groups seeking to bring the hotel to Tulare.
Five of those seven speakers, and possibly a sixth, were affiliated with Tulare Bethel Association of God. In addition, all those who spoke that were affiliated with the church implied that Hotel Garden Inn was a done deal.
Pam Malloy works for the Tulare County Office of Education and advises visitors on where to stay when attending TCOE events or conferences. She said that Tulare is “losing out to Visalia” because the city does not have the type of hotel these people are looking for.
She said that the Hilton Garden Inn has a reputable name and appeals to business people. Susan Smith said she plans an event every year to accommodate a few hundred people and has to go to Visalia, Porterville and even Exeter because Tulare does not have a big enough facility.
Ron Christiansen, a retired realtor and 23-year resident of Tulare, said that a hotel development is the best and highest use of the vacant lot. Right now the land is producing no revenue and a residential neighborhood would not be appropriate right next to a highway interchange.
Wayne Gosvenor said that a city either grows or dies, and that a city needs revenue.
“A hotel is a constant source of revenue,” Gosvernor said.
All of those against the plan update were either residents of Presidential Estates or Oak Mobile Home Park. Their main objection was that they moved to the area specifically because it was a quiet residential neighborhood.
The hotel complex would be surrounded by a residential community, mobile home park, fire station, church and Blain Park; in addition, Los Tules Middle School is less than a mile southwest of the site.
Gene Terry said that the city planners and realtors promised that the neighborhood would stay residential. Another resident said she enjoyed seeing the mountains from her home that she feared they would be obscured by the hotel.
“I didn’t buy a home in Presidential Estates to walk out my front door and see a five-story hotel,” Jack Parks, another area resident, said.
Other concerns were lack of parking, strain on an already stressed water infrastructure, increase in traffic and noise and the light spilling into their homes from a five story structure.
A resident of the mobile home park said that Cartmill and M Street were designed to be the edge of town and was not designed to handle the traffic that a large hotel would bring. The residents pointed out that the hotel would accomplish the same financial goals on the East side of Cartmill without the conflict of a residential community.
Parcels zoned for commercial development are for sale east of Cartmill and would have highway visibility.
No Environmental Impact Review Required
Many of the residents’ concerns were addressed in the Mitigated Negative Declaration report. A Mitigated Negative Declaration was required before the city could change the General Plan and zoning. The report is used by developers who believe their development does not significantly impact the environment and want to be exempt from doing a full Environmental Impact Review as required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
Rob Hunt, City of Tulare Community Development Director, stated in his report, “I find that although the proposed project could have a significant effect on the environment, there will not be a significant effect in this case because revisions in the project have been made by or agreed to by the project proponent. A MITIGATED NEGATIVE DECLARATION will be prepared.”
In terms of environmental impact, the residents are concerned about the increased traffic of 1,152 additional cars per day projected by the 2016 traffic study. They also contend that the budgeted 223 parking stalls is not adequate for a 136-room hotel, 400-seat capacity convention hall and 4000 square foot cafe.
“The proposed hotel will have a shared parking agreement with the [Living Christ] Church to the south,” Hunt states in the report.
Officials with the Living Christ Church say that they’re “not in agreement” with any shared parking arrangement.
In terms of residents living next to a hotel and their view of the mountains being obstructed, the negative mitigation report states that the hotel’s impact would be “less than significant.”
The report states, “the proposed project would be visible to most of the residences and other developments in the immediate vicinity ….. the Sierra Nevada Mountains are the only natural and visual resource in the project area. Views of these distant mountains are afforded only during clear conditions. Due to poor air quality in the valley, this mountain range is not visible on most days.”
City Council Votes
Besides being energy efficient, Sigala requested that the proponents provide a timeline of when the hotel would be open. He wanted to see a commitment by the management company to get something built if the council votes to change the zoning. Sunderland provided a timeline put together by the management company that said the hotel will be done in approximately 18 months.
Sigala and Nunley were also concerned about the flow of traffic and amended how clients exited the hotel property by adding a 14th condition to the CUP. Sigala also asked Sunderland to try and use local labor in the construction of the hotel. Sunderland said he had already arranged that with the management company.
In the end, the city council agreed that the economic benefit to Tulare outweighed the residents’ concerns.
Sigala said the only opposition to the development he heard that night boiled down to, “not in my backyard.”
He said that the city put a lot of money into the new Cartmill exchange specifically to attract business and increase the city’s tax base.
“It makes sense to build the hotel there and it will create service jobs and hopefully construction jobs.”