RECAP: Planning Commission, December 5, 2023
Sidewalk vending, utility undergrounding, and the 29! sculpture
Note: As this was going to “print” on Tuesday, December 12, an amended agenda was released for this evening’s already crowded meeting. The amendment added “Item 5” to the Presentations: Presentation of the City's Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR) for FY 2022-23. We are attaching it here:
Planning Commission Recap
In a humdrum conclusion to 2023, the Planning Commission tackled minor amendments to the development code, a request to defer locating utilities for the Oasis Carwash underground and potential relocation of an iconic sculpture.
Present were Chair Jim Krushat, Vice Chair Max Walker and Commissioners Leslie Paahana and Alexander Garcia. Commissioner Jessica Cure was absent.
Report on Meetings attended. Commissioner Paahana attended the Toys for Tots golf tournament, Commissioner Garcia attended the DBA (Downtown Business Association) meeting, and Commissioner Walker did not attend any meetings.
Chair Jim Krushat said that he attended the November 14 City Council meeting but stated that he spoke as a vacation home rental (VHR) owner. He said that he was pushing the Council to approve the new ordinance and move forward. The City has forced Krushat to recuse on this issue. Can Krushat pick and choose when he’s acting as a Commissioner and when he’s not and advocate for less regulation before City Council? In any case, the Council did not agree with his position, as we reported here, and sent the VHR regulations back to the Planning Commission.
Public Comments. Two letters were read into the meeting record. John Talley-Jones advocated that three changes be made to the VHR ordinance when it is reconsidered by the Commission as requested by the City Council:
That the number of permits per entity be capped at two (this has already been decided by Council).
That no permits be granted to parcels that are touching/sharing a border, and
That a distinction be made between Twentynine Palms residents that have a spare room or ADU or an additional residential property and a new build by an investment company. He requested that no new build be granted a permit within three years of getting an occupancy permit. This could be waived if the owner were to reside in the home for seven months out of the year.
The second letter came from Sarah Beck, a VHR owner and commercial building owner. She would like to see VHR permits transfer to new owners upon sale of the property.
Consent Calendar. The minutes from the November 7 PC meeting were accepted and approved 4-0.
2 DCA - Specific Plan, Historic Preservation and Hillside Grading. This development code amendment (DCA) was approved 4-0 with no discussion. The changes were minor as we pointed out in our agenda preview.
3 DCA - Sidewalk Vending, Peddling and Hawking and Mobile Food Trucks. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a minor update to this section of the City development code. The only substantive change would be that food trucks could no long do business parked directly on roads with speed limits over 35 miles per hour, such as Adobe Road and Highway 62.
DISCUSSION AND POTENTIAL ACTION ITEMS
4 Oasis Car Wash Deferral of Utilities Undergrounding. Back in November 2022 the Planning Commission approved plans for Oasis Car Wash, located on Highway 62 between Pine Ave and Oasis Ave. One of the requirements was that utilities be buried underground, but a provision of the City development code allows a developer to request deferral of this expensive work. The property is being developed by Depierro Development Corporation, which is associated with the family of prominent 29 Palms landowner Charles Donaldson. Depierro Development Corporation is also building the Cholla Laundry located east of the car wash on Cholla Ave.
The cost estimate presented by the applicant for utility undergrounding from Southern California Edison was $260,000 — a big-ticket item for a fairly small car wash business. This large price tag for undergrounding owes mainly to the fact that Oasis's electrical service would have to be run underneath Highway 62.
Hotelier Veno Nathraj commented, pointing out that the City allowed him no such deferral of undergrounding utilities when he built the Holiday Inn Express. "Rules are good when they're applied fairly," he said.
Community Development Director Keith Gardner advised that as far as he knows, the City has never previously received one of these deferment requests. Moreover, the City code specifies no duration for these deferments.
Other currently vacant parcels adjacent to the new car wash would face similar development hurdles. The Planning Commissioners wondered whether SCE could be persuaded to bring power underground across Highway 62 so that the cost could be shared between these multiple parcels.
While wanting to encourage new development, commissioners also fretted about the lack of any end date for this sort of deferral.
The applicant commented, noting that utility undergrounding for Project Phoenix (now Freedom Plaza) was accomplished with grant money. "It's more efficient to do a larger project than just to eliminate two or three poles."
In the end the Commission voted 3-1, with Paahana voting against the motion, to grant the deferment for five years, or until the other side of the Oasis Car Wash parcel is developed, whichever comes first.
A lingering question is whether approving a first time ever deferment on undergrounding utilities opens the door for other this developer or others to request similar deferments on new builds.
5 Public Arts Advisory Committee (PAAC) discussion of the 29! sculpture. Recapitulating their recent presentation to the Tourism Board Improvement District (TBID), Anna Stump, PAAC Chair, spoke on this item, joined by new PAAC member Paul Razo.
They presented the findings of a conservator the PAAC engaged to assess the condition of the 29! sculpture, who found that the piece's Cor-Ten steel needs to be stripped of its coating, and that it has a number of punctures that need to be repaired.
Stump said the PAAC has been in touch with artist Chuck Caplinger who created the piece. She noted that the piece's existing location on Donnell Hill suffers from lack of ADA access. One way of addressing this concern is moving the sculpture downtown, to Freedom Plaza.
Stump presented cost estimates for restoring the piece, leaving it at its existing site, and constructing a parking lot to make the sculpture ADA accessible for around $96,000. Restoring the piece and moving it to Freedom Plaza would cost approximately $14,000.
Stump and Razo showed a slide pointing out what they said were advantages of relocating the sculpture to Freedom Plaza, citing increased local pride, increased understanding of the importance of art and culture in the City, and increased visibility of the 29! sculpture on social media.
Finally, Stump mentioned that following the TBID meeting, the PAAC had received two offers of potential sites for the sculpture, the first from the Twentynine Palms Art Gallery. This nonprofit offered to house it on their grounds. Hotelier Veno Nathraj offered to have it on private property.
Commissioner Krushat kicked off discussion, saying that while it is always an option to simply restore the sculpture and leave it in place, he would favor moving it to Freedom Plaza, "a more prominent location."
In back and forth between the commissioners, they all favored restoring the sculpture for the time being, then moving it to Freedom Plaza.
Nathraj commented inquiring about the distance between Highway 62 and the sculpture, and Gardner replied that this distance was roughly 40 feet. Stump observed that if the sculpture were left where it is on Donnell Hill and a parking lot built behind it, the parked cars would make a poor background for photos.
To wrap up this item the Commission did not vote, but they voiced their consensus to restore the piece and move it to Freedom Plaza.
Share your thoughts in the comments below or in our live chat in the Substack app. Please note that we do not allow anonymous comments. Please be sure to include your first and last name in your profile before commenting. Anonymous comments will be deleted.
Thanks for reading The Desert Trumpet! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.