Hotel projects proceed despite major restrictions

After nearly 18 months without activity, construction crews are busy working on what will be a 108-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites, and a 108-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on the west side of Highway 41 in Oakhurst.

Last week more than 30 men were working on the site framing the four-story Holiday Inn Express, and installing underground plumbing on what will be a Fairfield Inn.

Workers were also installing storm drains and working on the foundation of a large retaining wall on the north end of the six-acre property, located between the Glass Hut and the Oakhurst Fruit Stand.

The prefabricated framing walls have been sitting on the property for about a year and a half, and Harry Hinton, deputy director in the county’s community and economic development department (building division), who serves as the county’s building inspector, said an outside company tested the lumber and verified it still meets the necessary fire retardant treatment requirements.

Companies on site included Kris Koontz Construction of Coarsegold doing concrete work, and Kelton Escavating & Trucking of Oakhurst installing a 12-inch storm drain deep underground.

The plan of Paul and Ambrish Patel, is to build a third hotel, a 108-room Hampton Inn by Marriott, adjacent to the other two hotels, although ground work has not started on that building.

Hinton said although all the hotel work is underway, there are some restrictions on what can and can’t be done at this time. The restrictions are because a required 468,000 gallon water storage tank for fire protection has yet to be installed at the site, and the property has yet to be connected to either the Hillview Water Company system, or the Oakhurst sewer system (Maintenance District 22A).

Hinton said although the county building department and Madera County Fire Marshal Deborah Keenan are allowing the framing to proceed to help the project move forward, nothing on the first building can be “closed-in” with plywood or sheet rock, nor can any electrical or plumbing be installed above ground until the water tank is built and filled with water. A large foundation has been installed for the water tank which is being custom made, and is expected to be trucked to Oakhurst and assembled on site soon.

“Part of our agreement with Mr. Patel is to allow him to frame, but he must stop at that point until the water storage tank, fire water pump, six fire hydrants, and approved access for fire equipment on the property are completed,” Hinton said. “We need to sign off on the mandatory fire protection system before Mr. Patel can continue beyond framing. In addition to the wood used in framing, there are other combustible materials on site.”

Last week, construction workers were asked to remove some wall sheathing (plywood) that had been put up over the framing.

“It wasn’t permitted to go up until the water storage tank was completed, filled and in service, so they were required to remove the sheathing,” Keenan said.

Hinton said the water storage on site will serve as the primary source of water for the fire hydrants on property and eventually the fire sprinkler system in the hotels.

“The Hillview Water Co. can’t provide enough volume of water for the planned fire hydrants on the property due to their capacity,” Hinton said. “That water storage tank will serve as the primary source of water for the fire hydrants and sprinkler systems for all three hotels,” Hinton said. “Water from Hillview will be supplemental water to fill the storage tank if needed.”

Developer to pay for sewer line upgrade

Jared Carter, a deputy public works director in the county’s capitol improvement projects division, said the county entered into an agreement with the developers on Nov. 3, to upgrade and hook up to the Oakhurst sewer (MD 22A).

Carter said the agreement provides for the Patels to upgrade the current sewer main to a 12-inch main, running from the hotel site (40820 Highway 41) south to the Fresno River, a distance of 5,250 feet, at a cost of about $2 million. The Patels will do the contracting and construction of the improvements, although the county will oversee and approve the project.

The treatment plant was recently expanded to increase capacity that will handle the three new hotels and future development in Oakhurst.

The county will not issue ‘occupancy permits’ for the hotels until the sewer line improvement is made by the developers, along with completion of the water storage tank and associated improvements.

According to Hinton, building permits were fist issued for the hotels on Nov. 27, 2013, and the water storage tank issue was originally discussed with the owners in April of 2013.

The project has been delayed while Patel and the county have been negotiating some issues, including the size of the water storage tank. At one point, Paul Patel was considering pulling the project out of Oakhurst due to his differences with county officials.

Keenan has stated that water is critical in the community because of limited engines nearby and largely volunteer crews.

“This is the area’s largest development in more than a decade,” Keenan said. “We just don’t have the primary tools we need to fight a fire at three four-story buildings in Oakhurst,” Keenan said. “That’s a huge liability for our fire staff who are risking their lives to go in there during a fire.”

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler is happy to see progress being made on the project.

“It’s starting to look good after much going back and forth with all the requirements and permits it takes to build three, 100-plus room hotels,” Wheeler said. “It will create many jobs and taxes for Eastern Madera County, and it will give an economic boost we’ve needed here in Oakhurst for quite some time.”

All three of the four-story hotels will feature a complimentary breakfast, fitness room, meeting room, high-speed Internet, large flat screen televisions, and swimming pool.

Patel has estimated that when all three hotels are complete, they will provide 100-plus jobs for area residents.

When the three hotels open, the 324 rooms will increase the number of hotel rooms currently in Oakhurst (534) by about 60%.

Patel has stated that the three hotels will generate a combined $1.2 million in Transient Occupancy Tax (bed tax) annually for Madera County.

“Many businesses in Oakhurst, especially restaurants, will feel the positive financial impact the people staying in these hotels will bring them,” Patel said.

The Patel family own and operate 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 48-room Monarch Inn.