Three Rivers debates room for luxury lodge
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
THREE RIVERS – A large, luxury lodge resort is being planned for Three Rivers which could change the community forever. Developers and county officials say the resort will provide more jobs, taxes, and attract more tourists to the gateway town at the entrance of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. Some residents and local businesses say the complex will diminish their quaint country living and dwindle revenue at well-established businesses.
They both agree that the 225-room Sequoia Resort and Spa would definitely look different than surrounding hotels, such as the more traditional looks of Gateway Restaurant & Lodge, Comfort Inn & Suites, Three Rivers Hideaway, Western Holiday Lodge, Sierra Lodge, and Buckeye Tree Lodge.
A warmly lit driveway bordered by lush landscaping will greet customers as they turn off Sierra Drive (Highway 198) toward the resort. The complex will feature three distinct kinds of hotels each with different pools and dining areas. The first is a three- or four-story hotel with a mix of wood and concrete exterior and with vines growing along the third and or fourth floors to shade upper level rooms from the sun. The 102,000-square foot, 100-room building features a first-floor lobby, 6,400-square foot meeting space, 4,000 square feet of retail, and a 120-space parking garage. The second hotel is a series of lightly connected townhomes. The 74,000-square foot hotel will include as many as 100 rooms, a 3,000-square foot restaurant, 1,200-square foot fitness club, 1,200-square foot rooftop bar and 120 outdoor parking stalls. The third hotel are 25, separate, single-story cabins of about 500 square feet each. At the center of these cabins will be a 6,000-square foot check-in and communal lounge, and a 2,000-square foot wellness pavilion offering yoga, face and body treatments as well as a health food store and restaurant.
“Each hotel will offer a significantly higher level of accommodation than any other existing hotel within the Three Rivers area and will likely be among the best hotels for anyone visiting Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Parks,” states the hotel’s operational statement.
Michael Washam, associate director of Tulare County’s Economic Development and Planning and Resource Management Agency, said the owners of the project are Hitesh and Gautam Patel, a father-and-son developer team from Pleasanton, Calif. Gautam Patel is the same person who developed the Hounds Tooth Inn in Oakhurst, Calif., a two-story Victorian style home which features a collection of 13 small, intimate suites near the entrance to Yosemite National Park.
In response to inquiries and concerns voiced by local businesses and residents, Washam said Tulare County Board of Supervisors Chair Kuyler Crocker, who represents District 1 encompassing Three Rivers, has scheduled a town hall meeting on Wednesday, July 24 to answer questions on the hotel development project, as well as provide updates to the public restroom project, vacation rentals such as Airbnb and bear proof bins. The meeting will be held from 6-8 p.m. at the Three Rivers Memorial Building, 43490 Sierra Dr. in Three Rivers. For more information, call 559-636-5000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the people planning to attend the Town Hall meeting is Herb Meeker. A local contractor for more than 40 years, Meeker said he is not opposed to the idea of a hotel but says the enormity of it is not in line with the surrounding properties. Meeker said at least 60 other Three Rivers residents attended a community meeting he organized on July 7 and shared their concerns about the project.
“It’s not the right scope and size for the area,” said Meeker, who lives at the southwest corner of the proposed resort.
Meeker said people are concerned about the height of the three-story hotel and its lights spoiling their starry nights, water supply and wastewater treatment for a hotel that can accommodate hundreds of people each night and its affect on their water wells and local smells, and traffic from large service and delivery trucks on the two-lane Old Three Rivers Road.
“It’s three times the size of the Three Rivers Inn,” Meeker said. “How are they going to process all of that?”
Washam said the developer has been looking to develop a hotel in Three Rivers for a few years now and has invested a significant amount of money on several sites before selecting the current site. yet some locals were surprised to hear of the hotel project and didn’t understand why they were not notified of the project before the point where the developer is primed to break ground.
The parcels where the hotel is proposing to build have been clearly marked for “community commercial” land use and zoned for “mixed use-service commercial” in the Three Rivers Community Plan since it was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1980 and reaffirmed in 2017. Washam said that because the land is zoned for service commercial it is considered a “by-right development” that doesn’t require a public hearing through the Tulare County Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors.
Meeker said he was aware of the land use and zoning but does not consider a hotel to be a town center.
“I would consider that retail, restaurant, maybe offices, and some lodging spaces,” Meeker said. “A properly designed town center could accommodate a lot of uses and a lot of needs.”
Similar to a general plan for a city, the more than 1,300-page Three Rivers Community Plan lays out strict guidelines for commercial development under the Town Center Development Standards including height, length and size requirements for structures, parking, walls and fences, sidewalks, lighting, landscaping and signage. According to the plan, buildings cannot exceed 35 feet, structures must be 10 feet apart, and first floor ceilings should be at least 12 feet tall. Projects must also provide landscaped buffers between commercial and residential uses, parking lots should be recessed to allow focus on the architecture, lighting must be pointed toward the ground, etc.
“The landscape architect will incorporate various local trees, plants, shrubs into the design to incorporate the local ecology while also shielding much of the development from view,” the Patels write in their operational statement. “As the site has moved significantly inland from previous proposed sites, there will be almost no visible impact from the major highway or the contextual development.”
The resort’s operational statement also addresses issues of utilities. Water will be provided by an onsite well and the developer plans to construct a grey water treatment plant on site to accommodate all sanitary needs.
Washam said RMA staff will be making a presentation during the Town Hall meeting which should address many of the questions and comments received from local residents and businesses. The developer will also be present to discuss the project. Washam said there will be time for question and answer period during the Town Hall meeting.
There is some concern about the effect the resort will have on existing businesses town as the hotels will be open 24 hours per day and 365 days per year while the some of the retail offerings will have more limited hours based on function and standard practice.
But there are economic benefits to the project as well.
The hotels and restaurants will employ at least 45 full time employees, and 25-30 part time employees, according to the Patels’ operational statement. The other facilities will employ 5-10 additional full-time employees, and 10-15 additional part time employees. Washam said that could create 78 permanent jobs over the first 20 years, generating an estimated $65 million in salaries and wages and $23 million in taxable sales and purchases from those earnings.
In addition, the Three Rivers Union School District will receive upward of $100,000 in school fees associated with the building permits alone. At full build-out, Washam said the development is estimated to generate $1 million per year in local taxes that will help offset the cost of providing services to the community.
Washam said no plans have been submitted to Tulare County by the Patels. Washam said the developers are still working with the Three Rivers Community Service District and want to fully participate in the Town Hall to hear from the community in an attempt to incorporate feasible ideas and suggestions into the final design. Full build out is estimated to take about three years.