On Wednesday, October 27, the Mammoth Lakes Planning and Economic Commission voted to 4-0 to approve an amendment to the Clearwater Specific Plan, moving a proposed new development tack at the Sierra Nevada Resort site one step forward.
Gina Montecallo, a planner with the Town’s engineering department, gave the commissioners a run-through of the project to date.
In 2009, the Clearwater Specific Plan (CSP) was adopted for the Sierra Nevada Resort site to develop a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use, resort destination.
The following year, a tract map, use permit, and design review for the site, called “Old Mammoth Place,” were approved.
In 2016, amendments to the CSP and Old Mammoth Place entitlements were approved, including a 10-foot increase in building height, an increase in residential square footage, and the elimination of an on-site workforce housing requirement.
As of 2021, no development at the project site had occurred.
So the developers, real estate investment and property management company Waterton, proposed a revised amendment for smaller-scale development at the site.
Waterton is in escrow to purchase the property from owner Jim Demetriades. The transaction is expected to close next month.
Montecallo listed the goals of the amendment:
-Create zoning to accommodate the “interim development” of a less tall and less dense expansion and upgrades to the hotel, restaurant (Rafters), and public spaces outlined in the initial development plans.
-Enhance and expand lodging, food, beverage, and meeting space options.
-Create a new outdoor venue for community events
-“Animate and activate” the Old Mammoth streetscape
-Allow for future development of the Old Mammoth Project in accordance with the CSP “if and when market conditions allow.”
Also included in the proposed interim development are 30, stand-alone resort cabin units for the hotel, sidewalk improvements, and improved site access.
Montecallo explained that the current proposal calls for 182 parking spaces at the site with no on-site parking spaces proposed for restaurant and event spaces or workforce housing.
Under previous CSP parking standards, she continued, an additional 66 parking spaces are required for restaurant use. As a result, staff recommended development standards for parking fall in line with existing requirements.
Additionally, the amended Phase One proposes a minimum of five housing units for hotel employees, which complies with the Town’s housing ordinances, and proposes snow storage for up to 53,300 sq. ft of snow. Montecallo highlighted sections of the amendment as examples of that consistency, such as the significant public open space, mix of retail/restaurant/lodging, and a walkable commercial corridor.
Other items consistent with the general plan vison include plans for an outdoor food and beverage “garden,” and rehabilitation of existing visitor accommodations.
After Montecallo concluded her presentation, the floor went to representatives from the applicant group.
Matt Mering, Executive Vice President of Hospitality for Waterton, said the company is “focused on acquiring hotels in outdoor-oriented resort markets,” assets with good history, location, and foundations to work with.
Part of the idea behind developing the Sierra Nevada Resort property is a lifestyle hotel brand that Waterton is launching called Outbound, aimed at the “creative-class” families and people who want a lodging experience that reflects the local environment.
Mering stressed the importance of community collaboration, saying “We need this to be embraced by the community to be successful, especially on the food and beverage side.”
He said that existing local assets like the Bishop airport, national parks, and the Ikon Pass accessibility make Mammoth Lakes a desirable destination for a wide array of travelers.
What’s set to change at Sierra Nevada Resort? Mering said the group wants to focus on Rafters over Jimmy’s/Red Lantern, which will be converted into a “pocket park” on the corner. Expansion at Rafters includes a larger outdoor deck/food garden and food truck accessibility. Mering likened it to a craft brewery experience.
The lobby, which Mering called “an undiscovered gem,”will be upgraded into an event space with a wine bar and can be rented out for private events or remain open to guests.
Richie Jones, partner at landscape architecture firm HDLA, took over to show some initial renderings of the outdoor spaces.
Jones said there was a “specific focus on activation and beautification especially along Old Mammoth Road.”
The revamped lobby/entrance would have a patio deck opening to the street with a fire pit/seating area further back from the road. Between Rafters and Sierra Nevada Road would be an open green space/park, with room for food trucks and outdoor seating.
The interior of the property, future location of the “resort cabins” would feature more walkable park space between and around the cabins.
Commissioner Paul Chang was the first to ask questions when the presentations had concluded.
Chang asked about the nature of a potential phase 2, noting that the amendment was for an “interim phase one.”
Mering said that the phase 2 is the Clearwater Specific Plan that had been envisioned in 2009 and added to since then, adding “the market is not quite there. It’s going to be very very difficult to get financing for a project of that magnitude.”
“We’re not a hedge fund that comes in, and is in and out in two years,” Mering continued, “We’re long term holders, much longer time horizon than a typical real estate investor.”
“You have to excuse my skepticism,” Chang responded, “When this project first came about, for the first six years after approval of the entitlement, it was unable to get financing.”
Chang’s hesitancy hinged on that ongoing uncertainty, and he referenced other developers facing similar delays in getting projects completed as a cautionary tales.
Mering said that CSP is underwritten just like any other real estate investment, and added that this sort of development is what Waterton has been doing for over 25 years.
Commissioner Greg Eckert liked the remodel as a whole, particularly the dedicated convention space and outdoor activation. Eckert was not without concerns as he asked Mering if the remodel/building of the amended Phase One would all be undone when the larger project becomes possible.
“I’m sharing commissioner Chang’s skepticism that Phase Two is going to be seen in my lifetime,” Eckert added, seeking guidance on what a Phase Two might look like and when it would happen. He also was hesitant about using modular units for the cabins.
“We’re renovating a hotel product,” Mering responded, “Hotels, you’ve got to renovate every 4-5 years … with modulars, you can pick up units, ship them [elsewhere].”
PEDC chair Michael Vanderhurst sought more clarity about parking at the site, a sentiment echoed in public comment by Margaret Clevenger.
Mering said that the parking can be addressed as part of project’s parking management plan. Punt.
Approved by a 4-0 commissioner vote, the amendment will be heard by Town Council on November 17, 2021.
Then follows the entitlement package, which features a design review for building and site, the use permit for parking reduction/operations/outdoor space management plan, and a tentative tract map.
Upon approval of those items, the 2016 versions of the design review, use permit, and tract map would be revoked to be processed concurrently with the new package.
On-site development could begin by Spring 2022, not be completed by that marker as last week’s article erroneously stated.