Motel Owner/Councilman Delays RV Park Project
A lengthy debate regarding the rules of order, due diligence and many questions from Councilman Sam Patel, owner of the Best Value Inn on Hobsonway, has placed the second reading of the requested zoning change for developer Joe Swain’s proposed RV park in Blyth, Calif., on hold.
Swain had already been issued the permits for a 120-unit RV park approved at the city council meeting held on May 31, but Patel was absent at that time and was unable to put forth his objections. The permits were thus approved by a 4-0 vote during that meeting, The Desert Independent reported.
The resolution put forth to the board on Tuesday (June 21) was simply a zoning change up for a second and final reading that would be necessary to allow construction to go forward. The recommendation by the city planner read as such:
Ordinance No. 849-2011. An ordinance of the City Council of the City of Blythe approving zone changes 2011-01 being a change of zone from CG (General Commercial) to RMH (Residential Mobile Home) for 10.5 acres of the 13.44 acre Neighbors RV Park and Commercial Site.
This particular 120-unit RV park is being developed to meet the demand for housing for an anticipated 1,000 construction workers and administrators due to arrive in Blythe in the next year for the $5.8 billion Solar Millennium Power Project as well as the anticipated construction of three other solar power projects.
The only comparison to the expected construction boom about to hit the Palo Verde Valley would be the effect on Las Vegas with the construction of Hoover Dam nearly a century ago. At that time, Las Vegas was only a small desert town of 5,000 residents and the Hoover Dam project doubled that number with 5,021 workers during the height of construction. The government created camps known as Ragtown and Squatter’s Camp to house the laborers and their families. While hardly akin to the tar paper shacks and bunkhouses created for that labor force, Swain’s project is intended to house those skilled laborers who have no desire to move permanently to Blythe yet need affordable accommodations.
Patel began with criticizing the size of the prospective units being only 399 square feet, much smaller than most motel rooms and expected to house 1,000 tenants. Patel also demanded to know “when the council was informed of the details of this project.” City Manager David Lane then duly informed him that the details surrounding the project were to be found on “page 86 of last meeting’s agenda” of which Patel did not attend.
Lane also explained that, according to state regulations, the units had to be 399 square feet or less to be classified as “RV units.” These trailers will indeed have axles and wheels, he noted, but they will be set on a foundation pad and skirting will be placed around them to give the appearance of modular units. Such a difference in square feet, he noted, is saving the developer some substantial monies in that anything over that is considered a mobile home – a designation that is more costly to the developer.
Patel then stated that he would like the council to revisit the permits already issued in that “Blythe deserves a better product.” “What is it going to look like five years from now?” he inquired of the council. “Another East Blythe?”
Patel also questioned the necessity of such a project “when there are 600-700 motel rooms in Blythe that are already vacant?’ “What will happen once construction if over?” he questioned. “(Joe Swain) will have to make money on these units still, will he be renting to anybody?”
Patel then stated that he “wanted to postpone the whole project until a better vision is created.”
Manager Lane then explained to Patel that the units will be contracted on a “lease-to-own” deal upon which the contractor will become the actual owner after five years. Robert Holt of the Holt Group came to the podium and explained that “this is a huge project – expected to cost $5.8 billion and last between 6 to 8 years.” Once the “nail-pounders” are done, he said, there will be administrators and permanent employees utilizing the same units.
Councilman Patel then stated that he is not against the whole project, but would rather see a “60%-40%” split between actual full-size pads and utilities created for RVs and the remaining 40% of the lots designated for the 399-square-foot units.
City Attorney Bettenhousen informed Patel that only a council member who had actually voted at the last meeting to approve this project could make a motion to reconsider. Several speakers came to the podium to support Patel’s idea to go back to the drawing board on this project:
- Tom Sutterfield requested that the council exercise due diligence in making such decisions noting that this project seemed to be extremely “fast-tracked.”
- Judy Schuster also voiced in her objections in that the public had not had much opportunity for discovery as well. Kathy Linares stated that she would like to have had more of an opportunity to study the project and its ramifications also.
Councilman Galvan then made the motion to table the resolution for a zoning change until the next meeting. Councilman Contreras, in discussion, stated that this project was needed in order to keep workers in Blythe, at least during the workweek. “We have seen before in prison construction that workers are very willing to commute from their homes. People will travel (and currently do as correctional officers) from Buckeye, Lake Havasu, Indio and Parker. We need to provide these accommodations.”
That said, Councilman Contreras seconded Galvan’s motion to table the resolution and the motion passed by a 4-0 vote with Vice-Mayor Covel not present at this meeting. City Attorney Bettenhausen explained that any reconsideration of the RV park will have to be properly agendized and discussed in open session at the next regular meeting of the Blythe City Council.