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Neighbors vs. Sand Canyon Resort

| Canyon Country Magazine | September 19, 2019

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It’s a project in its early stages and wouldn’t be completed for years. But it already has stirred opposition from residents and been met with a mostly wait-and-see approach from the city council.

It’s the Sand Canyon Resort and Spa.

Steve Kim, CEO of Sand Canyon Country Club (formerly Robinson Ranch) wants to build a 77-acre complex. At about 534,200 square feet, the project would feature two three-story hotels with a combined 322 rooms, 15 two-story villas, nine single-story villas, meeting center, ballroom, three restaurants, children’s center, spa, gym, salon, two pools, tennis court, mini-golf course, gardens, trails and 393 parking spaces.

Speaking from Seoul, South Korea, Kim touted the project’s benefits: 500 jobs that will keep people from having to go over the hill, $80 million to the local economy, millions of dollars in hotel taxes to the city, amenities to Canyon Country and Santa Clarita getting its own five-star resort similar to the Ojai Valley Inn.

“Santa Clarita has a beautiful location, unbelievable beauty,” he said. “There’s nothing like that. I don’t understand the opposition, unless they’re really selfish.”

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Additionally, city Communications Specialist Kevin Strauss said in an email, an existing one-acre water quality detention basin would almost double and be connected via a new storm-drain pipe.

The project would require a zoning change for two land parcels, from open space to community commercial. That means it’s intended for retail and service serving the local market. The other two parcels would remain open space.

The loss of open space is one reason the Sand Canyon Homeowners Association and other residents are opposing. They created the Stop Sand Canyon Resort task force because they feel their way of life in their rural area is under threat. According to its Facebook account, Stop Sand Canyon has 188 members as of Wednesday.

One such member, Dana Martin, has posted several times. These include accusing Kim of offering councilmember Bill Miranda 30 acres of open space to build a cultural center, his skepticism that there is enough water, how grading caused a water runoff onto a neighbor’s property, and whether a resort would really benefit the residents.

Kim said he was aware of the neighbor’s concerns, and he paid the resident, Russell Myers, $5,000 to fix the problem. In a June 10 email to city Associate Planner Hai Nguyen, Kim explained that after the fires and mudslides in 2016, the grading company brought in soils to fill in bunkers and lakes. The February rains caused the runoff, and the city served him a notice of violation.

As for the acres to Miranda, Martin referenced a conversation Kim recounted having with Miranda in Kim’s book, “American Dream.”

In the book, Miranda confessed he’s wanted a cultural center for a while, and Kim said it should have a lot of visitors, but downtown is not the right location.

“We have about 30 acres of open space left over after the development, and I was wondering what the land could be used for,” Kim said.

Miranda responded, “Steve, do you mean you’re going to offer the site to the City?”

Reached Wednesday, Miranda acknowledged he spoke to Kim about it but called the conversation “very superficial. I don’t know if he has 30 acres or 10 acres to offer, but when the time is right, we’re going to be looking around.”

Also opposing the project is Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment (SCOPE). Its president, Lynne Plambeck, posted on the SCOPE website a reminder that the city promised about 300 acres of land in perpetuity as open space when it approved Robinson Ranch in 1996.

Martin also is aware of this, and he challenged Kim on Facebook, “Abide by the conditions of approval for Robinson Ranch, which you agreed to as a member of the ownership group, including preserving the open space that was granted in perpetuity, that you now want to build on.”

People are watching Kim’s actions carefully and haven’t been afraid to report to the city. As far back as 2017, people have logged complaints about early-morning and late-night noise, and alleging illegal grading and other violations. But documents the Gazette obtained have shown only violations pertaining to floodlights shining into neighboring properties, which were resolved.

Grading is occurring on the grounds, and one time the city did cite Kim for failing to obtain a permit to grade. Kim said the grading is not for the Sand Canyon Resort project, and city Associate Engineer Rohil Santa Ana said the project has no active grading permits.

Another objection people have raised goes back to the Sand Fire in 2016. Many found themselves stuck and blocked from exiting the canyon from the side nearest Soledad Canyon and Sand Canyon roads. Many fear a repeat, and they expect such a project to increase traffic, making it that much more difficult to get out if another emergency arises.

Kim said he’s aware of this objection, too, but in a letter he sent to the Sand Canyon HOA board, he figures an average of 940 people would be staying at his resort at any one time, that most people would stay only two or three days, and that they would check in and out during non-commute times, mitigating traffic concerns on the 14 Freeway.

Besides, he said, there already are exits via Robinson Ranch, Canyon Springs and Lost Canyon roads that don’t affect Sand Canyon Road. And he believes that Robinson Ranch’s presence slowed the fire.

“They pick on every little thing,” he said. “These people are so unreasonable. Think about all the benefits. It’s really disheartening.”

Kim provided a 75-page market demand analysis done by multinational real estate corporation CBRE. The city council requested the report at a meeting in July 10, 2018.

Among its conclusions: It would primarily serve the Santa Clarita market, it wouldn’t be visible along any major thoroughfare, and the facilities and amenities would optimize market position and performance.

“An opportunity exists for the development of a high quality, resort hotel at the subject site,” the report said.

Mayor Marsha McLean and Miranda declined to comment about the project, Miranda citing the lack of a finished environmental impact report as the reason. Councilmember Cameron Smyth said he welcomes input from all sides before deciding.

“I want to be as open-minded as possible,” Smyth said, “but I recognize a project like this will have significant impact to the residents of Sand Canyon.”

Only Councilmember Bob Kellar – himself a Sand Canyon resident – has come out in favor of it. “I think it’d be a nice addition to this end of our community,” he said. But he added that he, like Miranda, wants to read the EIR first.

Kim said the EIR, which he said cost $3 million but the city put it at $254,190, is complete, and he wants it released now, but the city told him within a month. Strauss said the EIR will be posted for public comment and will include analyses of traffic, noise and air quality. Soon after, the Planning Commission will hold meetings about the project, and then the City Council will weigh in.

Kim hopes to have final approval by the end of the year, and he has a Jan. 1, 2022 target opening date. In the meantime, the sides dig in for a long fight.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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