The house was built for Wallace Libbey Hardison, a co-founder of Union Oil and Limoneira who was also the owner/publisher of the now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, on a 19-acre parcel in 1884 at 1226 Ojai Road, fronting what is now Highway 150

Planning Commission approves downsized Hardison development

May 27, 2016
Santa Paula News

The City Council will next consider development near a historic home after the Planning Commission approved the Hardison House project, 3-2 after the developer agreed to reduce the number of homes to be built.

Williams Homes initially proposed a 53 home development but agreed to cut five residences from the plan to reduce density and improve the view of the historic Hardison House from commuters on Ojai Road. 

At the May 24 meeting after hours of reports and testimony Commissioner Michael Sommer made a motion in favor of the downsized River Rock project with caveats to extend Fuchsia Road through the proposed development and waive a city recycled water fee.

Commissioners Fred Wacker and Fred Robinson also voted yes but Chairman Gail “Ike” Ikerd and Commissioner John Demers — who questioned lot sizes and traffic impacts — voted no.

The house was built for Wallace Libbey Hardison, a co-founder of Union Oil and Limoneira who was also the owner/publisher of the now defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, on a 19-acre parcel in 1884 at 1226 Ojai Road, fronting what is now Highway 150. A barn was built in1885 and the developer’s plan calls for the barn to be moved closer to the house and be renovated as a parking structure.

The proposed development is on approximately 9 acres with the balance of the property a steep, tree and brush covered hillside. 

Contract Planner Chris Williamson told the commission that their suggestions and questions from the April 26 meeting had been considered including Fuchsia Lane being open for emergency access only, developing the hillside to allow for larger lot sizes, reusing the Hardison House as a public venue and addressing water uses and supply.

Raul Gaitan of Public Works objected to closing Fuchsia Lane noting since 1971 the street had been slated for access to new development. 

Hillside construction is not practical said Williamson as the property slopes 150 feet; to build 10 units on the middle slope would need “considerable restructuring of the hill, an enormous amount of truck trips,” for dirt hauling.

Such an option would “completely change the hillside…seven units on the lower slope would not need as much cut and fill,” but Williamson said, “The first option takes off the hillside and the second option takes out the oak trees…”

Regardless, he added the development would have to be increased to 57 units to recover the cost of grading and engineering.  

“Some kind of quasi public use of the house,” is not likely as it is zoned residential, public events or activities would generate additional traffic and onsite parking would have to be created. In addition, Williamson said Caltrans “won’t allow a second entrance” that would offer direct access to Hardison House. 

Water saving toilets, showerheads and landscaping he noted would help conserve water and a detention basin would percolate runoff for ground basins.

The Ventura County Conservancy recommended and the developer agreed to nominate the house for a historic listing on the city, state and national level — it is already Ventura County Landmark #35.

Keith Herren, executive vice president of Williams Homes of Santa Clarita, told commissioners he has made outreach attempts for the Hardison House “And haven’t been very successful…except for the Ventura County Conservancy…”

He noted Williams Homes built the Ridgeview development above Santa Paula Hospital, which sold for $400,000 to $500,000, a “successful project.”

In prior testimony Herren said River Rock on the Hardison property would sell in the $400,000 range, priced right for the community: “In Santa Paula there were 11 sales last year for over $600,000,” while there were 60 sales between $400,000—$500,000.

The average home size in the new development would be 2,000 square feet and the lot sizes bottoming out at 4,700 square feet; most would average more than 5,200 square feet.

“We’re not trying to dictate the market,” he said, “We’re trying to meet the market…”

During public comment Jim Procter said he would focus on “two compelling reasons” to deny the project: “First,” the plan does not “pay proper respect to the house and the barn,” and density “is way out of character,” with the area and violates zoning mandates.

“I am not opposed to development…when the family sold the property we knew it would be developed, that was fine,” if city guidelines had been followed. 

But, he added, “We of Santa Paula should no longer mediocrity, we deserve better.”

Other speakers addressed impacts on already strained Ojai Road traffic, water availability and use, landslide potential, historic resources and other issues. 

Commissioner Demers said he did not approve of the “mobile home size lots” in the proposed development.

Ikerd spoke of growing up on a family farm and questioned why Hardison family members sold the property for development rather than preserving same.

Procter returned to the lectern: “I was not opposed to development,” of the property held in a family trust “with multiple beneficiaries, most of whom  do not have a lot of financial resources.”

He noted the trust invested $300,000 in restoring Hardison House, “We did all that in good faith…if somebody things we should have done more that’s their opinion, we did our best.”

Ikerd noted that there are many properties such as Hardison House in Santa Paula with “emotional connections” and said, “I’m a sucker for old barns and farms…I get it, I really get it.”

Sommer agreed with the developer when it came to home prices in the city and Robinson and Wacker said they were trying to grasp the issues, which seemed to become more complicated since the last commission meeting.

The proposed project will next go to the City Council for final consideration.

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