LAKEPORT, Calif. – The Bay Area firm seeking to purchase and renovate Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa received the Lake County Planning Commission's unanimous approval of its plans at a Thursday morning meeting.
The commission approved a mitigated negative declaration, a major use permit and shoreline variance for Resort Equities LLC's renovation plans for the Kelseyville resort, once the county's top resort destination, which has been closed since November 2009.
Resort Equities President Grant Sedgwick spoke to the commission about the project and what he hopes it can do to improve Lake County's tourism and enhance its reputation.
“I'm very excited about it,” Sedgwick said of the resort renovation plan.
About 60 people were on hand for the two-hour meeting at the Lake County Courthouse.
During the course of the meeting, additional mitigations suggested for the project – having an American Indian monitor on site for any ground work, including demolition; requiring the resort to participate in the invasives mussel prevention program; and planting of tules to help filter runoff in an undeveloped shoreline area slated for new buildings – were added by staff.
“They're all reasonable,” Resort Equities President Grant Sedgwick said of the requests for the additional measures following the meeting.
Principal Planner Kevin Ingram, who along with Community Development Director Rick Coel has worked on processing Resort Equities' application, called it a “wonderful but complicated” project.
Ingram noted he's fielded about 50 calls or visits to his office from people interested in the plans for Konocti Harbor. “A vast majority of those have been positive.”
The plans call for demolishing 121 of the 261 existing lodging units, renovating another 150 units as well as the main lodge and pool areas, building a new 75-unit hotel building adjacent to the pool and 15 two-story fourplexes for another 60 units along a currently undeveloped area of shoreline near the amphitheater.
At full buildout, the 90-acre property – of which about 58 acres is developed – will have 164 timeshare or fractional ownership units, Ingram said, along with a new waterside bar and grill, greater shoreline pedestrian access, more parking, 275 boat slips (currently there are 100), five piers and docks will be repaired, there will be an expanded system of piers and docks, and the amphitheater will be renovated.
Coel said the plans call for extending docks and amenities out into the lake, with the proposal including allowing the new party deck near the main lodge to be 35 feet high, rather than the 20 feet limit.
In explaining the shoreline ordinance variance, Coel noted, “Staff feels strongly that the variance findings can be made because of the uniqueness of this site, the prominence of it and the lack of public access to this whole region of Clear Lake.”
Ingram said that in September when the project first came in, county staff organized a site visit with a number of local and state agencies, which he said was a great experience.
“It was a great amount of knowledge that came out of that. The applicant was receptive to it,” he said, with an updated project application from Resort Equities working in suggestions from the meeting.
Commissioner Olga Martin Steele asked about lake impacts, increased sediments and fish spawning areas.
Coel said the shoreline improvements will consist of utilizing existing pilings. “That significantly minimizes the impact to the lakebed,” he said, adding that the resort has been developed and used for lake access facilities for 40 to 50 years.
Steele wanted to know if fish spawned in the area. Coel said the county had received no information from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife or Department of Water Resources about whether there are spawning beds along Konocti Harbor's shoreline.
He said the water in that area is deeper, with spawning beds tending to be in shallow lake areas near tules. The dock structures provide shade that is beneficial to some species.
Explaining the project
Sedgwick said the plan includes job creation, positive economic impacts and entertainment.
He said that the project success and the county's are tied together. Lake County's tourism is suffering when compared to other areas and the resort is an important element in putting a rebuilding process in place.
Tourism in Lake County has only increased 55 percent since 1992, which Sedgwick said isn't even keeping up with inflation. Meanwhile, in neighboring counties such as Napa and Sonoma, tourism has increased more than 200 percent in that same timeframe.
“There is a bit of a perception problem about the lake itself and Lake County,” he said. “It isn't warranted.”
Sedgwick said he and business partner Richard Ragatz sent out an email survey to 17,000 people in a Konocti Harbor customer database. Out of those, they received 3,000 replies, which he called an “overwhelming” response.
Of those who had responded, more than 70 percent had stayed in the resort's lodging facilities, about 90 percent had attended a concert and 94 percent had an overall favorable experience, Sedgwick said.
Because of seasonality, it’s important to have varying types of ownership – including partial and timeshare – underpinning the real estate, Sedgwick said, explaining that the resort historically had occupancy of less than 40 percent.
Sedgwick said they could spend up to $90 million on the project's renovation plans. They don't yet have that amount raised, and are still in the process of working on financing. The planning commission's support, he added, would be important in the process.
“It's hard to summarize all the things I’m feeling about this project in just a couple of minutes,” he said.
Commission Chair Bob Malley said Konocti Harbor had always comprised four to five cylinders of the county's eight-cylinder economy, and he was glad to see someone stepping up to take it over.
Community speaks on project
Despite the large crowd, only a handful of people spoke on the project, mostly to ask questions and to request additional mitigations.
County staff also answered questions from some nearby residents who wondered if the additional undeveloped land is to have any building activity – there's no such proposal – and if lighting mitigations will be in place, with Malley noting that lighting rules have changed since the resort was open.
Archaeologist Dr. John Parker of the Lake County Historical Society said the resort was in a highly sensitive area and a registered archaeologist should work alongside an American Indian monitor to observe ground disturbing activities anywhere on the property.
Coel said there were no identified archaeological sites in the vicinity that required an entire archaeological study. He said 90 percent of the property has been surveyed but the undeveloped area along the shoreline where the fourplexes are proposed to be built hadn't been surveyed, so they added the monitor requirement.
Coel said they are trying to provide a level of protection, and from a business standpoint it makes a lot of sense to do an archaeological study before doing earthwork. “This project is on a constrained timeline and we really need to get this done.”
Jack Long, the county's economic development manager, read into the record the county's support for the project.
“Staff is pleased to see Resort Equities' commitment and dedication to the project,”Long said.
Konocti Harbor was a premier destination in the county, and its closure caused ripples across the county's economy, Long said. Its return would provide a boost to the economy and the plans include all of the elements the county believes would make it successful.
Victoria Brandon, on behalf of the Sierra Club Lake Group, said there needed to be included in the project conditions a requirement that the resort adheres to the county's invasive mussel prevention program. She also suggested a tule replanting project along the resort's lakeshore would attract wildlife.
She said she was delighted that Sedgwick recognizes the perception problem – not the reality problem – for Lake County, and said the renovated resort could be the kind of first class operation that helps address that perception.
Sarah Ryan, environmental director for Big Valley Rancheria, also urged the commission to keep a tribal monitor present for any ground disturbance in the entire project area. She also wanted language included in the project requirements relating to species of special concern such as the Clear Lake hitch, which is now being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
During commission discussion, Steele said she liked adding additional mitigations such as the tule plantings, but Coel said that under the California Environmental Quality Act there need to be impacts identified in order to require mitigations.
Malley said that the nexus is that additional runoff will result once buildings are placed on the undeveloped shoreline area, and he suggested they add a provision for placing tule beds in the area to filter runoff.
Coel asked for a brief break so he and Ingram could come back with some modified language in the permit requirements.
The changes presented to the commission included requiring Resort Equities to enter into an agreement with Lake County Water Resources to become a participant in the invasive mussels prevention program prior to operating the resort.
The firm also must provide a tule planting plan to the Water Resources Department for review and approval prior to the issuance of the building permits for the fourplexes on the shoreline. The tules should be planted within six months of the completion of the units.
In addition, Resort Equities shall provide the county with an archaeological reconnaissance study that will include the areas of existing development where demolition is proposed.
Malley asked if Sedgwick was amenable, and Ingram said yes.
Commissioner Gil Schoux made the three separate motions to approve the mitigated negative declaration as amended, grant the use permit and find that the request for a variance from the shoreline ordinance met the requirements. All three motions were approved unanimously.
“Konocti, get moving,” said Malley, with the audience giving a round of applause to the vote.
After the meeting, Ingram told Lake County News that once a seven day period during which appeals can be filed is over, Resort Equities could come in and begin filing for building permits. But he didn't expect that would happen just yet.
Sedgwick told Lake County News that the sale is anticipated to close the first or second week of March 2014.
Email Elizabeth Larson at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter, @ERLarson, or Lake County News, @LakeCoNews.