Having taken over the development of the project from Davidson Communities, Woodbridge Pacific earlier this year asked the Planning department to approve some largely cosmetic changes for the designs, things such as "...minor changes to design, color, materials and reduction of massing and heights in certain units..."
Given that the original designs were approved ten years ago it seems reasonable that they might feel it necessary to change the color schemes, some materials etc. as tastes change but the Planning department refused their request referring them to formally apply and this they did with their proposals first being examined and approved by the Architectural Advisory Committee on May 19th. and then by the Planning Commission on June 28th.
Although the Planning staff had not approved the request when made directly, the staff report for the AAC concludes:
"The proposed minor amendment to the project will result in a design with reduced massing and height in some units. The minor amendment to the Final PDD will not alter the use and density of the project and the applicant is not seeking any deviations from the previously established development standards. The project architecture is similar to that which was orginally approved and no major changes to the overall context of the project. Proposed new materials and color palette are harmonious and compatible with desert surroundings. Overall, the proposed material and color changes will enhance the previously approved project. Based on this determination, Staff recommends approval of the project as proposed."
Opportunities for public comment, both verbal and written, were available at each of those meetings, in May and June, and from the Planning Commission it would have gone to the City Council for further consideration, where there would have been yet another opportunity for public comment, but instead Cllr. Kors has asked for a public hearing on the Planning Commission's decision, where "The City Council will be reviewing the Planning Commission's action to approve a request by the Woodbridge Pacific Group to amend the final development plans ..." (see the notice opposite).
Given that the changes the developers have
Our City Manager has told me that he doesn't know the Councillor's reason and Cllr Kors did not respond to repeated requests for information but one possibility might be that our City Council has finally become aware of the inadequacies in its process of getting input from residents' into developments such as these.
You may recall the sorry story of the role the Tahquitz River Estates Neighborhood Organization, TRENO, played in 2014 when the City, in the form of newly-arrived Planning Director Fagg, formally asked it for input into the request for yet another one-year extension for the project. Despite the neighborhood of Tahquitz River Estates having well over 1,000 homes and many more people, TRENO has a pitifully small number of members and even fewer officers, about a dozen, (see the page on this website explaining this). Under the leadership of its then Chair, LIsa Middleton, TRENO held private meetings with the then developers (Davidson Communities), and, without discussing the request with, or seeking input from, the residents of the neighborhood, reported to the City that they approved the extension request. Afterwards, in May 2014, Lisa MIddleton told local residents what she and the few others involved had done (emphasis below is added):
"Davidson has requested support for the extension from the Tahquitz River Estates Neighborhood Organization. We met with Davidson and expressed our concerns regarding the history of this project. To the question - why will it be different this time? Davidson has offered the following:
We have for nearly a decade supported development of this property. We continue to support development and believe Davidson Communities has a responsible plan for completing the project. They have the financing in place, a firm timeline and are currently developing local properties. For these reasons we concur with the city Planning Department that a one-year extension for Davidson is appropriate. Our letter of support has been filed with the Planning Commission."
"What we can promise is we will keep you informed and we will do all we can to keep the disruptions to a minimum."
Davidson got their extension, in part because as Middleton stated, TRENO was "listened to" - regardless of its lack of representativeness - and the work started, but despite the assurances Middleton used to justify her support, Davidson withdrew from the project even before the underground work was completed.
However, having done that work, the development reached a point where the investment in it is so significant I am told that consideration of major changes cannot now be made. The chance to re-examine a more than decade-old, high-density design at the southern gateway to the City passed when Lisa Middleton and the TRENO clique waived through an extension for the project while ignoring the rest of the neighborhood, (see the box opposite for just part of the argument for not granting the extension).
As she made perfectly clear above "We have for nearly a decade supported development of this property. We continue to support development..." and so, equally clearly, she and they would see no benefit in asking local residents for their opinions on a further extension for a decade old plan as those people just might have suggested that instead of granting the extension, changes be made to the project.
Here, by the way, is what I wrote about the extension request on Nextdoor when it was being made, (emphases added):
"Though there was purportedly a "public consultation" back in 2006 which should have sought input from everyone in the community on the development, no evidence of that input can be provided to show its extent. Over the nearly ten years since then there has been a huge turnover of residents in the neighborhoods in the vicinity such that today most of the people living in the area and affected by this development have had no say in it.
For instance there is concern about the gated nature of the community, its density, and the height of the buildings, but because the outline plans were approved ten years ago nothing about them can be changed. If the extension is not given, local residents can be heard in regard to any new outline plan submitted. I live in a home directly facing this development. It would be to my advantage to have the development proceed immediately as something built would be better than facing an empty development site. But because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create something that would benefit everyone living in South Palm Springs, because there is no certainty that even if the extension is granted anything actually would be built in the next year and because local people have been excluded from having their say about it I believe it is right that the application for an extension be rejected and the developers be asked to submit another outline plan."
Having demonstrated her style of back-room deal-making and non-participative governance, Middleton was then appointed by a City Council led by former City Mayor Steve Pougnet, to, of all things, the Planning Commission! Now Middleton is running for our City Council. Our City will be the worse for electing anyone who treats local residents with a disdain that borders on contempt.