It was in late 2013 that building permits for three hotels to be built in Oakhurst were submitted to Madera County. Construction crews broke ground in early 2014 for a Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, and a Hampton Inn Express & Suites - each four stories high with 108 rooms.
But two and a half years later, after many discussions, negotiations, building delays and another tourist season coming to an end, the hotels sit - a long ways from being completed.
According to Madera County Building Official Harry Hinton, the project has been delayed for multiple construction issues.
It has been nearly six months since Madera County stopped work, with conditions, on the three-hotel construction project on Highway 41 because the necessary building inspections and special inspections were not being performed by owner and general contractor Paul Patel.
Back in February 2013, the project was halted for 18 months due to the developer starting work before building permits were issued. The permits weren’t issued because Patel’s design team hadn’t yet addressed plan review comments and corrections as requested by the county, explained Hinton.
According to Hinton, Patel wanted to continue with construction, but that wasn’t allowed. The county did, however, allow Patel to continue with framing only - and nothing could be “closed-in” with plywood or sheet rock, nor could any electrical or plumbing be installed in the structures until a 468,000-gallon water tank for fire protection be put in. Also, the county requires six fire hydrants and a fire pump, with the system attached to Hillview Water Co.
In November 2015 work restarted on the project, with conditions, only to be stopped again this past February.
Although the water storage tank has been installed, some anchor bolts needed to be reinstalled to meet county standards and the hydrants are yet in place.
According to Hinton, other issues that require additional work and inspections include foundation compaction tests on the building pads that were never completed before the foundations were poured, and work and inspections on portions of the structural steel beams, and framing. That work will be done soon by Moore Twining Associated Inc. of Fresno
Hinton said Patel has recently submitted plans for the compaction testing, an issue he was aware of since 2013, but another issue arose when builders were installing structural steel hangers for beams.
“They cut out and modified some beams which affects the structural support for the floors,” Hinton said. “The beam hangers and the structural beams were not manufactured in a certified manufacturing facility and there was no way to verify the steel or the welding. We found all the welding and bolting was inadequate. All those had to be redone. We need to get these issues resolved to our satisfaction before they can continue working on the building, and for me to feel comfortable with the project moving forward.”
In the meantime some work on the property has continued including trenching, retaining walls and the initial hookup to Hillview Water Co. at the edge of the property that adjoins Highway 41.
Hinton explained the county building division is tasked by state law with the job of reviewing plans and construction documents to verify they meet the minimum code requirements before issuing a construction permit. Inspectors are then tasked with verifying that the work being performed meets minimum code requirements and the construction documents.
In April, Madera County Chief of Development Services Norman Allinder said his staff met with representatives from the development team and outlined a process to get the serious questions about the safety of the buildings answered.
“Normal construction protocols call for testing and reporting on the integrity of plan specifications to ensure compliance with building codes,” Allinder said. “Since the normal protocols have not always been followed in this case, there have been serious questions as to the integrity of the structure. We just want to make sure the proper testing and inspections are conducted, thereby protecting the health and safety of the public.”
Although reluctant to give a timeline, Hinton feels that if all the requirements are finished and pass inspections, there is a chance work could resume on the three buildings within 60 to 90 days.
Patel has estimated when all the hotels are complete, they will provide 100-plus jobs for Mountain Area residents, and generate a combined $1.2 million in Transient Occupancy Tax (bed tax) annually for the county. When the three hotels open, the 324 rooms will increase the number of hotel rooms currently in Oakhurst (534) by about 60%.
Both Patel and his attorney David Weiland declined comment for this story.