The Madera County Planning Commission approved a variance June 3 to allow a 55-foot height for the four-story, 108-room Holiday Inn Express hotel on Highway 41 in Oakhurst. The additional 10 feet is to accommodate an architectural tower on the building.
Speaking on behalf of the project was Lee Gauge, of Lee Gauge and Associates, a Fresno architectural firm.
Only one person spoke in opposition to the variance, a neighbor behind the property who feared the height of the building would diminish his view.
The 60,000 square-foot hotel, originally planned to open for this tourism season, has moved slowly due to a number of building code issues that needed to be worked out between the project design team and county planning and fire officials. The hotel is being developed by the Patel family with Paul Patel serving as general contractor.
The hotel is the first of three being planned on the west side of 41, between the Glass Hut and the Oakhurst Fruit Stand.
Original plans called for two additional limited-service hotels, a 108-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, and a 108-room Hampton Inn by Hilton on the same six-acre site. The original requests for county building permits for those two hotels have been temporarily withdrawn. The three hotels would total 180,000 square-feet.
Patel said earlier the three hotels combined would provide 100 jobs for the area and $1.5 million annually in Transient Occupancy Tax (bed tax) and property tax for the county.
Although final grading and building permits have not been approved for the new Holiday Inn Express, Madera County Building Official Harry Hinton said the process has moved forward significantly in the past couple weeks with only a few minor interior things to take care of, including specific details of some of the handicap-accessible rooms.
Agreement reached on fire suppression water storage tank
The developers have agreed to a 35-foot tall, stand-alone 468,000 gallon fire suppression water tank for the hotel. The developers thought the size of the tank was excessive a few months ago, but have now agreed to meet the request per state building and fire codes.
"They have addressed the fire code conditions that include the indoor sprinkler system, fire hydrants, alarm system, and the water storage tank," said Deborah Keenan, Madera County Fire Marshall. "We have signed-off on the fire and alarm system. The tank should be on site and full of water near the completion of framing."
Keenan earlier said her department has been working with the project's design team for a year to mitigate the water storage issue.
Keenan also noted that the water storage is necessary because Hillview Water Co. can provide about 1,100 gallons of water per minute to the property, but state code requires 3,000 gallons per minute.
In addition to the water storage for fire suppression, the hotel still needs to hook up to Hillview Water Co. for domestic water, and to the county sewer lines for waste water disposal.
The final grading plan is currently being reviewed by the Madera County Engineering Department.
"Everyone has been doing what we can to keep this project moving forward with the minimum requirements of the state building code," Keenan said. "County staff can not design the project ... we can only review submitted plans to make sure they meet state building and fire codes to protect the people in the hotel and the general community."
Although the project is making headway, it has not come without some disagreement between the project design team and the county, including some verbal jabs at the county, including accusations of incompetence and retaliation.
The accusation of retaliation stems from a news story that quoted developers voicing concern over unfair and unnecessary building requirements being placed on the project.
In an April letter to Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, Dave Bradley, an architect assisting Lee Gage & Associates, said the three hotels planned to be built were in jeopardy "all because of bureaucratic ineptness and inflexibility."
Bradley stated in the letter that Mr. Gauge has built 80 hotels and he himself has worked for 20 years on schools and hospitals.
"Never have I witnessed unprofessionalism from officials as I have from some of these from Madera," Bradley said. "Not all of them ... some are pretty decent people."
Bradley said that when Keenan was asked how she arrived at the size of the water storage tank, her response was "because I said so."
"It seemed to me, as an observer, this was just another opportunity to dig into a developer's pockets ... no explanation ... period."
Keenan said she made no such comment.
Bradley said he wrote the letter out of frustration due to, what he felt were unnecessary, and some inaccurate requests being put on the developer and a bottleneck in getting answers from the county.
In a memo to Allinder in late April, Keenan said she had grated the reduction of water storage from 630,000 gallons per hotel in three separate storage tanks, to just one tank requiring 468,000 gallons for all three planned hotels.Bradley also said all communications with the planning department had to go through Hinton, and that answers to questions that would normally take 10 minutes over the phone and by email, were taking weeks due to the lack of response by Hinton.
Madera County Director of Planning and Building Norman Allinder, in an April 25 letter to the county supervisors, said he received no response from Bradley when he asked for proof of the accusations of wrong doing by his department.
"To date, no such proof has been provided, but they continue to make malicious statements against staff," Allinder wrote.
"They began construction without approvals and had to be stopped," continued Allinder. "The original and second plan submittal has multiple references to the city of Bakersfield in the notes, indicating the work is not original, but recycled from an older project. The evidence in the record show that they have not honored the multiple requests for information in the plan check comments."
Allinder further stated that the hotel has had delays because the project team has disregarded explicit direction from the county planner and building department.
"Delays caused by the inability of the designers to make corrections to comply with minimum code requirements," Allinder said.
On behalf of the county, Interwest Consulting Group of Roseville have reviewed the building plans five times the first in late December, 2013, came back with 28 pages containing 60 changes or clarifications requested of the developers in such areas as signage, roof access, drinking fountains, roadway width, fire barriers, lighting, landscaping, and green building standards.
The second review, dated Feb. 10, was 32 pages. Three more reviews, dated Feb. 25, March 24, and April 11, included 21, 16, and nine pages, respectively, of requested plan changes or clarifications. The last review was down to 10 comments not addressed from the previous submittals.
Allinder's letter said that his staff has provided numerous suggestions and solutions in writing to the developers and his staff has been responsive and professional.
"Despite all this, we still support the project and want to see it completed," concluded Allinder.
The Patel family also owns two other Highway 41 properties the 117-room Comfort Inn (adjacent to H & L Lumber), and the 14-room Hounds Tooth Inn, just south of the Golden Chain Theatre.
The family also owns three hotels in Mariposa the 27-room Yosemite Inn, the 78-room Best Western Hotel at the corner of Highways 49 and 140, and the refurbished 48-room Monarch Inn.