How serious is the Town of Mammoth Lakes about incentivizing new development? Serious enough to drop $15,000 on a study if its findings move a proponent closer to putting a shovel in the dirt?
These two questions were at the core of a staff report considered by Mammoth’s Planning Commission Wednesday afternoon. Commissioners reviewed a proposal from applicant Mammoth View that would have the Town cap, reduce or otherwise waive certain development fees, and participate financially in certain elements of the boutique hotel/townhouse/condo project, planned for Main Street, between Mountain Boulevard and Viewpoint Road.
Mammoth View is already well into the approval process for a Use Permit and Tentative Tract Map, as well as Design Review. The applicant’s contention is that some relaxation of fees and certain efforts on the Town’s part would make the project more viable. Mammoth View proponents seem to think that with such assistance, the could potentially get the project underway soon, well in advance of the Town’s eventual emergence from the recession.
The study, according to Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw, would be conducted by EPS’ Walter Kieser, a familiar face in the Town’s independent consultant landscape. Part of its scope of work would be to look at four main points regarding Mammoth View’s proposal.
Though Mammoth View still intends to finance the entire complex privately, what the applicant appears to be seeking is “assistance” or “investment” (as our current President likes to call it) in the form of support for landing a “brand” flag for the hotel, and helping facilitate infrastructure items, such as geothermal, and a publicly accessible garage or sidewalks, etc.
Those types of “assistance,” contends Mammoth View, would more than be made up for down the road by taxes and other revenue generated by jobs and TOT that would result from the earlier implementation and operation of a name hotel and its amenities.
In terms of pros, cons and risk, the study will take a serious look at how this proposal is viewed against the backdrop of a recession and real estate downturn that has left the Town’s new development sector fighting to hang on to every bit of momentum it can muster. Would, for example, another similar applicant be entitled the same type of negotiation, or is this a one-off type of consideration? Would it hold up in the long run both in terms of criticism and policy making?
In his remarks, Wardlaw indicated something has to be done to get the Town to where it says it wants to be. “The General, Master and District plans all call for a different future than the one we’re staring at now,” he told the Commission, adding his take that a mix of public and private sector cooperative investment may be part of getting to that future.
Is the Town, in essence, willing to give up what amounts to pennies now in exchange for dollars later? queried Wardlaw.
Commission Chair Tony Barrett said his only major concern was whether such a consideration jibes with the Town’s top 2 priorities: the Zoning Code Update and completion of the District Planning process. Wardlaw counseled Commissioners that Town Council is looking to the Planning Commission as the economic development body of the Town, and indicated it’s the Commission that should set the pace when it comes to reconciling priorities, investment and realizing planning.
“Building a hotel is challenging,” Mammoth View spokesman Hector Caldera told the Planners. “The current fee structure is a disincentive [for hoteliers].” Caldera opined that it would cost [proportionately] less in fees to build a full-scale development.
Commissioner Elizabeth Tenney observed that the recession has forced the Town into “crisis mode,” but found the request full of thoughtful analysis. “It poses a lot of the right questions as to how we’ll get where we’re going.” Commissioner Jay Deinken suggested there’s a remote possibility the study’s funding will be a waste of money, and thinks it far more likely “we’ll conclude there’s a lot we can do.”
Only one real cautionary note was sounded by Commissioner Sharon Clark, who indicated she’d like to see the data before making any determinations vis-a-vis Mammoth View’s proposal, but called the study a “unique approach” and advocated moving forward.
“My position all along has been that fees should have been reduced at all levels 2 years ago,” Barrett reminded the room. “If it gets us that much closer to [Mammoth View] on the ground, let’s get this to Council as soon as possible.”
Commissioners recommended 4-0 that the study and related Mammoth View requests be forwarded to Town Council, which is scheduled to take up the matter during its Feb. 16 meeting.