As a counterpoint to the love note Charles James penned in regard to last week’s Bishop Planning Commission approval of Aaron Schat’s Sterling Heights project …
You know a developer is full of crap when they keep telling you that you’ve got to approve their substandard project because otherwise “it won’t pencil.”
Why should the City of Bishop and surrounding neighborhoods suffer because Aaron Schat might stand to make less money than he thinks it’s his God-given right to make? Why did the planning commission give Mr. Schat a pass after identifying glaring shortcomings in his plans?
It did not appear as if Mr. Schat had adequately performed his due diligence before purchasing the Sterling Heights property for $4 million.
But he got his pass because he’s Aaron Schat and he’s bought up half the town at this point. So no one wants to cross the Big Cheese. I mean, if you cross him, maybe he won’t buy your business next.
Schat’s proposal is to take the now-defunct 72-unit assisted living facility and turn it into a 69-unit apartment complex.
The 72 units were formerly occupied by folks who didn’t have a large footprint. The vast majority didn’t have cars. Many never left the property – or if they did, they were ferried by van to appointments.
It was stated at the meeting that there were generally 10-15 cars parked in the facility’s underground lot – generally those of employees.
Schat said he envisions a single adult, professional building where the goal is one person per room.
When told that his vision of 69 eunuchs who live to work and work only could open him up to charges of housing discrimination, Schat replied that the residents will have to get a job through him to get the housing, so he‘ll be able to know who’s coming through the facility.
Translation: We will not engage in housing discrimination because our efforts at employment discrimination should weed out married couples and families and children and anything that may distract our employees from getting to work on time.
And if people do want to mingle, it’s likely Schat’s fervent hope that they’ll mingle with fellow residents but live in separate studios – so no further impact on parking or project density. Hmm. Maybe they should begin sponsoring 2nd floor keggers on Tuesday nights.
Schat’s plan is for 58 studios of 324-square feet and 11 two-room units of 648-square feet.
Proposed rents are $1,000 for the studios and $1,500 for the “deluxe.”
The project envisions 75 parking spaces for the 69 units.
Current city code calls for a 2-1 parking/unit ratio. Or, if Schat were required to meet code, 138 parking spaces.
But since Sterling Heights is classified as a pre-existing, non-conforming use, code is deemed irrelevant.
The nightmare scenario would be if every resident entertained “guests,” family members, et. al. and suddenly you have double the residents and perhaps double the cars.
City planners said they have no legal means to disallow guests or to monitor apartment densities.
What that potentially means is that you’re gonna have vehicles spilling out far and wide into the quiet streets of east Brooklyn, er, Bishop.
Only one member of the public spoke at last week’s meeting. The deadline to appeal the planning commission’s approval has already lapsed.
Which means Commissioner Eric Leitch’s thoughtful suggestions on ways to make the project more user-friendly went unheeded.
Leitch said that by his math, 58 x $1,000 plus 11 x $1,500 means Schat will potentially gross $74,500/month or $894,000/year.
Leitch suggested more of the studios be combined into two-rooms. If you had a unit breakdown of 34 studios and 23 “deluxe” for example, you’re reducing density and cars and being more respectful to neighbors, and it wouldn’t be a huge hit to the bottom line.
34 x $1,000 plus 23 x $1,500 = $68,500/month or $822,000/year.
“I’m not investing $4 million to make $100,000/year,” said Schat, who noted that a tour of the property with City inspectors revealed that he’ll also have to make hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs and upgrades to get a certificate of occupancy.
And there’s the rub for Mr. Schat. The transition from assisted-living facility to apartments triggers state regulations regarding “change of use.” That means upgrades. And unforeseen expenses. And you can’t just order a city staffer to wave a magic wand and make it all disappear.
As Schat said, building Sterling Heights in 2022 would cost $15 million. You can’t spend that kind of money and then turn around and offer rentals at $1,000/month. “This is a huge risk,” he said.
Although less of a risk given that Northern Inyo Hospital and the Toiyable Indian Health Project have committed to renting about half the units to house traveling staff.
As Schat’s wife Marianne noted, many employees throughout the Schat empire of businesses are nearing retirement age. So they need reinforcements. Now.
“We need eighty people,” said Marianne. “Where are they going to come from?”
This plea seemed to sway Planners from a position of more study to act now.
By a 4-2 vote, Bishop Planners chose the side of housing over the various project shortcomings. Leitch and Commission Chair Patricia Lew voted against.
Just so neighbors know exactly what’s coming … state law says you can park 72 hours on the street before you have to move your vehicle and restart the clock.
And just wait until people get settled and start parking their toys (boats, et. al.) out front.