After three years of planning, the start of construction of a 185-room hotel complex in Three Rivers appears to be just months away, says Mike Washam, associate director of the Tulare County Resource Management Agency (RMA).
A preliminary site plan submitted to the RMA earlier this year places the proposed hotel complex–the Sequoia Resort and Spa–on Old Three Rivers Road, behind the Comfort Inn.
“The location is off Old Three Rivers Road and away from the river on the opposite (east) side from Highway 198 (Sierra Drive),” Washam said. “You really won’t see it from 198.”
County Has No Discretion
Initial plans for the hotel complex would have located it adjacent to the Kaweah River on a site near the Three Rivers Post Office. Had the developers–Guatam and Hitesh Patel, owners of the Pleasanton-based Patel Group–stuck with the original location, a series of public hearings focused on an environmental impact report (EIR) would have preceded the start of construction.
The land the Patel Group has purchased, however, will not require submission of an EIR, meaning the RMA will have little say beyond insuring the plans for the hotel complex meet the requirements of the Three Rivers Community Plan.
“There is no discretion. The property is zoned for that use,” Washam said. “It’s been zoned for that use for a number of years.”
Because the proposed construction site is within the “town center-type area” designated in the Three Rivers Community Plan as an area intended for both commercial and social use, the project will not come under consideration by county leaders.
“It doesn’t have to go to Planning or the Board of Supervisors,” Washam said.
No Plans Submitted Yet
As of mid-June, the Patel Group has yet to submit a formal plan for consideration by the RMA. A single-page drawing of the intended layout of the complex was submitted earlier this year and has since been made public. The document, Washam said, was generated to allow the RMA to discuss the plan with other interested agencies.
“There was a preliminary site plan, just kind of a guide so we could converse to Caltrans about where the entrance is,” he said. “They’re (Patel Group) going to have to improve the drive approach. Some things might have to be done to Old Three Rivers Road. They’re ready to do that, as far as that goes.”
The Patel Group, Washam said, eventually purchased the Old Three Rivers Drive property following a trio of false starts.
“Because of the hurdles and engineering aspects, they started looking at other sites,” Washam said.
After giving up plans to locate the project next to the Post Office, the developers turned their sights on land behind Three Rivers Fire Station 35 on South Fork Drive. That plan was nixed when an environmental study discovered the land was home to a rare plant. A plan to purchase an existing hotel and adjacent property also fell through.
“They did make an attempt (to buy Comfort Inn and Suites), but they weren’t successful,” Washam said.
Town Hall Meeting Planned
The site Patel Group eventually picked is perhaps better suited for the project, according to Washam.
“This land, again, is a bigger, leveler area,” he said. “It’s two parcels, one of them has been farmed for many, many years.”
The developers have also thoroughly investigated the Old Three Rivers Drive property’s suitability.
“They’ve done a number of studies on the site,” Washam said. “They’ve done a lot of work.”
Patel Group, he said, has performed cultural, biological and hydrological surveys of the site. The developers also intend to take into consideration local residents’ thoughts on the project.
“What we’re planning to do, because the community is very interested in this project, Supervisor (Kuyler) Crocker will be holding a town hall,” Washam said. “The developer will be there. That won’t occur until mid-July. We don’t have a date set yet.”
While Patel Group is eager to move forward with construction, they are also want to be good neighbors, according to Washam.
“They want to be able to listen and do the best they can,” he said. “They don’t want to say, ‘I’ve got a right. This is what we’re doing and we’re going to build it.’”
Three ‘Brandings’ at Site
According to Washam, the development will likely include three separate hotels, with Patel Group intending to construct one a year during a three-year construction period.
“They’ll be probably three main buildings or so,” he said. “It’ll be a complex, with three brandings.”
The largest of the hotels will be a 100-room stand-alone building; a smaller 60-room hotel is planned in a second stand-alone building. A third hotel with some 25 “cabin-type” units surrounding a spa pavillion is also included, as are a pair of single-story meeting rooms.
“There’s a lot more to it than a hotel,” Washam said. “It’ll also have restaurants, and potential retail things–local artists and jewelry, things like that.”
Each hotel will also have its own parking area.
Community Benefits, Concerns
Once complete, the trio of hotels should bring 50 to 60 new jobs to Three Rivers, as well as 15 to 20 “spin-off” jobs, Washam said.
As part of the development deal, Patel Group will be providing $500,000 for a community benefit project to be named later. Over a 20-year period, taxes on the property should generate some $3.3 million for the Three Rivers Union School District.
Despite these possible future benefits, the plan has raised concerns with many Three Rivers residents. Chief among them are worries over the impact to the local water supply, increased traffic, environmental harm and additional competition for existing businesses.
Those concerns, Washam said, are overblown.
“There’s a lot of good things for the community,” he said. “A lot of the concerns out there are not founded because there have been studies done.”
Three Rivers Community Plan
Concerns have also been raised about the location of the new hotel complex, especially its effect on nearby residences. The location, however, is in line with the nearly 1,400-page Three Rivers Community Plan, much of which dates back to 1980.
“This is really the only area that allows an open area of development,” Washam said. “This has been the area where this type of development should occur for more than 40 years. It’s just actually occurring now.”
The Community Plan also contains 12 pages of “very rigorous set of community development standards” addressing issues such as lighting, building design, landscaping and other similar aspects.
“We (the RMA) look at the plans; we make sure it complies,” Washam said. “Three Rivers is a sensitive area in terms of ideas. If this was on the Valley floor, they’d be jumping for joy.”
Summer Start Unlikely
Besides ensuring compliance with the Three Rivers Community Plan, the RMA will also be sharing citizen concerns with the Patel Group prior to finalizing construction plans.
“Right out of the gate, it (citizen concern) came pretty quick,” Washam said. “We’re putting all the emails in one place, so we can share them with the developers.”
Rumors ground at the site could be broken before the end of the summer months is likely unfounded, but could happen.
“It’s possible. We have to review the plans. If they get it right the first time, it could go through in a couple of months,” Washam said. “I would doubt it would be this summer, especially since we’re not going to do anything until after the (town hall) meeting.”