Theater development takes step forward

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Theater development takes step forwardA proposed complex that will include a new movie theater moved one step forward when the Ridgecrest City Council completed a public hearing and first-reading of a development agreement at its Wednesday night meeting.

Based on the recommendation of the Planning Commission, G & L China Lake LLC is seeking a development agreement with the city for the proposed development of “The Oasis at China Lake,” a 17.34-acre project at the southeast corner of China Lake Boulevard and Rader Avenue.

During the course of discussion, city officials noted that the agreement authorizes the developer to lock his project into existing codes and requirements.

The agreement will allow an extension on the time the developer has to begin Phase 1 construction after the site plan is approved. G & L has three years to begin construction on Phase 1, and 10 years to begin construction on Phase 2.

According to planning consultant Asoka Herath, the first phase will include the construction of a 10-screen theater. The second phase will allow the developer to recruit additional businesses around the anchor tenant.

Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens raised concerns expressed by residents living adjacent to the development, which proposes using existing brick walls for one wall of the development. “They believe an additional wall needs to be built to create more of a barrier between their homes and the development,” said Stephens.

Herath noted that the wall is a condition of the site-plan review and grading permit. If the existing height of the wall is seen as sufficient, the developer can avoid building a second wall “and having a no-man’s land in between.”

“I would have concerns about only a 5-foot wall separating me from a huge development,” said Stephens.

Herath said that since no one appealed that condition within the 10-day window of site-plan approval, the opportunity to change it has passed.

The city engineer will be requiring compliance with the existing height of the wall, he said.

During public comment Sarah Wersan, who identified herself as a nearby, though not immediate, neighbor of the development expressed support for the project.

However, she encouraged the theater operator to extend the existing selection of movies to keep from driving Ridgecrest Cinemas out of business (see related letter, Page 4).

Scott Miller asked if there were an artistic rendition available for the project. Stephens directed him to the agenda packet posted online (www.ridgecrest-ca.gov).

Stan Rajtora said that he was generally in favor of the development, but questioned the length of the 10-year window to begin Phase II construction.

“It seems like that puts us at risk,” he said. With the uncertainty of what tenants will open up at that property, he said he worried that might disrupt recruitment efforts for other developments.

“Holding something in abeyance for 10 years, not knowing what’s going to be in there … that seems like a long time.”

Darrell Whitten of Cornerstone Construction, the project engineer, said that a lot of work goes into the master plan for a development that big.

He said that once the movie theater is brought in, “it’s a much more marketable property. Once he gets Phase I done, the synergy to move on with the rest will pick up.”

City Manager Ron Strand added that the city cannot control what vendors go into a development. “If you look at the parcel map, they have an idea of what they want to put in. They are attempting to recruit those businesses.”

However, he said, the city has to allow businesses to operate in a free market.

Councilman Mike Mower objected to the variance that allowed narrower parking lots. He said he did not believe pick-up trucks would fit into the allotted 18.5 feet.

“I received two phone calls, and one rather long e-mail, from people objecting to what this does to the existing movie theater,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden.

She said the council does not have the authority to restrict the types of businesses that open in Ridgecrest.

“It’s not our job to make that kind of judgement.” She said the council can only make sure that the proposed development abides by existing laws and regulations that other local businesses must adhere to.

The motion passed 5-0.

In other city business, the council approved a grant application to the Kern Council of Governments for $774,611 to resurface and rehabilitate West Ward Avenue between Norma Street and China Lake Boulevard.

The city’s matching-fund cost would be $100,360.

Breeden said she wants to bring a future agenda item to determine a fair raise for city staff.

“We have departments that have one person,” she said. “It’s unacceptable to expect perfection from a one-person department. It’s not like anyone is sitting around.”

She said that members of city staff have not had a raise since 2008. “If there is anyone else in this valley who can say they haven’t had a raise since 2008, you let me know.”

The council also had a lengthy discussion regarding direction to Scott Hayman, who serves as the city’s delegate on the IWV Groundwater Authority.

The next meeting of the IWVGA board will be on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m. in Ridgecrest Council Chambers.

A detailed report of the council’s discussion will be published in next week’s News Review.

A recording of the discussion is also available in the Media Vault on the city’s webpage.

Story First Published: 2019-08-23