The Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously sided with property owners and the Planning Commission, upholding an earlier decision and denying a citizens group’s appeal of a plan to construct a 15-person guest ranch on South Fork Drive near the southern entrance to Sequoia National Park.
While this was the outcome sought by Mike Cannarozzi–the long-time Three Rivers general contractor who is overseeing the Sunset Paradise Ranch project for its Los Angeles- and New York-based owners–it was a loss for the Kaweah Coalition, a group of foothills residents who are concerned the project and the larger, nearby Redwood Ranch will degrade the area’s nearly pristine setting.
The Kaweah Coalition, led by Three Rivers resident Mathias Herriges, has vowed to fight both projects in court. They claim the guest ranches pose a fire hazard and create the possibility of pollutants draining into the South Fork of the Kaweah River, which both projects abut. The group has also expressed concerns about heavy traffic on the narrow, winding road, as well as added noise pollution.
Very Different Animals
While the two guest ranches appear similar on paper, Cannarozzi says they alike in name only. While the Redwood Ranch has been granted permission to host large events such as weddings on a 190-acre property, Sunshine Paradise’s owners have not. (An earlier story about Sunshine Paradise Ranch published in the December 3 issue of the Valley Voice mistakenly reported its owners planned to host events.)
Cannarozzi also says fears the Sunshine Paradise Ranch could pollute the Kaweah are unfounded. The guest ranch, he says, is actually very eco-friendly.
“It’s a total off-grid project. We produce our own power,” he said. “Part of the joy of this camp is people take pride in having a small footprint.”
Hosting events at Sunshine Paradise, Cannarozzi says, would defeat the project’s intent.
“The whole purpose of this to get people in touch with land,” he said.
A Rocky Start
The supervisors’ decision means construction at Sunshine Paradise can now get underway after a series of delays. The project was originally met by two deadlocked votes of the Planning Commission. It was eventually passed in a 4-2 vote in October.
“It got a little contentious,” Cannarozzi said.
The special use permit affirmed by the Board of Supervisors allows for the construction of a 200-square-foot communal bathroom and a pair of 400-square-foot cabins on the four-acre project site. The site is already has a house for the year-round groundskeeper, and four tipis and tents intended as guest accommodations. The addition of a fifth tipi was also approved by the Planning Commission.
Conditions placed on the project by the county include setbacks for the tipis and septic system, as well as a prohibition of open fires during the dry months from March through December. The project’s design had already incorporated these safety measures.
“We did this before the county even told us,” Cannarozzi said.
Responding to Complaints
Cannarozzi says those concerned about Sunshine Paradise Ranch’s impact on its surrounding environment and neighbors have conflated the smaller project with the nearby and much larger Redwood Ranch. The pair of guest ranches are less than two miles apart.
“I had read most of the complaint letters about Redwood Ranch. Then when Paradise started, I saw essentially the same letters come,” he said. “(The Kaweah Coalition) basically changed the name and submitted them to the county.”
While Cannarozzi said he essentially supports the Redwood Ranch, he says the project is quite large for such an isolated area.
“If they could scale it down some,” he said. “I’ve got a little bit of conflict, because as a contractor I’ve been through three owners.”
He says Redwood Ranch’s owners have decided to hold just 12 events in 2020, as opposed to 28 this year. They also require shuttle service to bring guests to the site for events with more than 30 participants.
“They’ve tried to respond to some of the complaints,” he said.
Minimal Impact Planned
Of the two neighboring properties abutting the Sunshine Paradise Ranch, Cannarozzi says one is supportive of the project while the other has expressed concerns about sewage seeping into the river. That fear, he says, is unfounded.
“They designed a (septic) system for us that will accommodate 20 people,” he said. “All the effluent waste water is pumped away from the river. Our leach field is three times as far as the county requires.”
As well as having a 350-foot setback from the Kaweah River, the septic system’s pump is equipped with three redundant power sources, solar, propane and a gas-driven generator. The structures on the property–all of which will be at least 50 feet from the riverside–will also have an unusually small footprint, with each structure supported by six pylons covering a total of 24 square feet.
Designed by Ood House, a Finnish company, the buildings that will eventually be erected at the Sunshine Paradise Ranch are intended to blend into the background. The movable structures’ exteriors are covered in mirrored glass.
“Even the structures at a glance will be reflective as possible, like they’re not even there,” said Cannarozzi. “That’s why the owner settled on them.”
Protecting the Past and Future
Guests who rent the ranch will be required to use a shuttle service to travel to and from the property, trash and food will be stored in National Park Service-approved bear-proof containers, and lighting will conform to the International Dark-Sky Association’s lighting guidelines.
During any construction on the project site, Cannarozzi says an archeologist will be on-hand to preserve any Native American burials and artifacts.
“Since we’re right on the river, in 10,000 years of pre-Columbian civilization the native people probably plied those rivers,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t disturb (anything).”
And despite being less than two miles from the South Fork Campground and the Lady Bug Trail in Sequoia National Park, Paradise Sunshine Ranch will have fewer guests, most of them tourists.
“It is being marketed to mostly Europeans and corporate groups for team-building,” Cannarozzi said. “It is off-grid. It’s eco-oriented. Their mission statement is peace and wellness.”
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We’ve tried hard to like this project. It has way too many exemptions and variances and sets a precedent as the first commercial business outside the Urban Development Boundart of Three Rivers, which is delineated exactly where it is based on fire and emergency response times, slope, and other biological metrics. The project wants to pump human waste uphill, on rocky soils given the lowest possible septic ranking by NRCS standards. The variances to allow 5 tipis, 2 cabins, and a communal bathroom into the 100’ setback distance from the river is beyond tolerable. A Sacred Lands File has been issued by *the* tribal representative responsible for this territory because a significant cultural site exists—he was utterly ignored by the Board of Supervisors. By State Law, this cultural resource site should have triggered a full CEQA EIR review. I’ve personally been stopped from having platforms attached to piers with fireproof canvas tents in Very High Fire zones because, I was told, they are “structures” which fail to comply with State standards in State Responsibility Areas—now that we have a multimillionaire around, somehow these platforms are no longer ‘structures’? That’s a big deal in an area zoned for just 2 residential buildings. House mirrors have been known to start house fires in the right conditions. So now we’re building entire cabins out of reflective mirrors in the bottom of steep, dry canyons—and one with the highest fire frequency in all of Tulare County? Check out the TC Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The TC RMA has redefined their definitions of ‘development’ under the FGMP to explicitly mean ‘subdivisions’ or ‘retail commercial’: therefore, they argue, they don’t need to apply Development Standards to projects like this. There are dozens of other impacts and issues concerning this project alone that the County has steamrolled for a little extra $$ and the quest to move unregulated commercial development into fragile and vulnerable areas. Redwood Ranch is in a galaxy of its own. We invite Mike C to invest in and steward property in the South Fork and feel what it feels like to have been this impacted by noise, light, and traffic. Every single year the fire reports come back and the culprit is always about expanding development into extreme fire areas (and expanding the Wildland Urban Interface), and people sit scratching their heads. Bring these projects down to our stretch of the river, which is flatter, within a 15 min fire response time, and allows for our community Development Standards to be met.