Patels pull out of plans to develop 225-bed luxury lodge hotel in the face of local opposition
By John Lindt
Sierra 2 the Sea News Service
THREE RIVERS – An upscale hotel developer is checking out of Three Rivers.
Tulare County economic development manager Mike Washam confirmed last week that developer Gautam Patel has dropped his multi-year effort to build a $30 million luxury lodge in Three Rivers. He says opposition to the 225-room hotel was too strong. Gautam and his father Hitesh Patel’s development company is based in Pleasanton, Calif. and developed the Hounds Tooth Inn in Oakhurst, Calif., a two-story Victorian style home which features a collection of 13 small, intimate suites near the entrance to Yosemite National Park. Patel had been working on a location at the McKee Ranch near the fire station. Patel did not return a call by press time.
“They have been working on this project for two years,” Washam said.
The Sequoia Resort and Spa would have looked significantly different than surrounding hotels, such as the more traditional looks of Gateway Restaurant & Lodge, Comfort Inn & Suites, Three Rivers Hideaway, Western Holiday Lodge, Sierra Lodge and Buckeye Tree Lodge.
A warmly lit driveway bordered by lush landscaping will greet customers as they turn off Sierra Drive (Highway 198) toward the resort. The complex would have featured three distinct kinds of hotels each with different pools and dining areas. The first is a three- or four-story hotel with a mix of wood and concrete exterior and with vines growing along the third and or fourth floors to shade upper level rooms from the sun. The 102,000-square foot, 100-room building would have had a first-floor lobby, 6,400-square foot meeting space, 4,000 square feet of retail, and a 120-space parking garage. The second hotel would have had a series of lightly connected townhomes. The 74,000-square foot hotel will include as many as 100 rooms, a 3,000-square foot restaurant, 1,200-square foot fitness club, 1,200-square foot rooftop bar and 120 outdoor parking stalls. The third hotel was slated to have 25, separate, single-story cabins of about 500 square feet each. At the center of these cabins would have been a 6,000-square foot check-in and communal lounge, and a 2,000-square foot wellness pavilion offering yoga, face and body treatments as well as a health food store and restaurant.
During a July 24 town hall meeting, residents said the project was too large for the area. They said the height of the three-story hotel and its lights would spoil their starry nights, water supply and wastewater treatment for a hotel would affect their water wells and local smells, and traffic from large service and delivery trucks on the two-lane Old Three Rivers Road would create a safety hazard.
Patel had made a concerted effort to modify his plans to meet community concerns including relocating the proposed site and downsizing it. The hotel’s operational statement also included concessions to use trees, plants, and shrubs and a hillside to shield much of the development from view and included landscaped buffers between commercial and residential uses, recessed parking lots and down-angled lighting. Water was to be provided by an onsite well and the developer plans to construct a gray water treatment plant on site to accommodate all sanitary needs.
Locals initially became leery of the project because they were not notified of its initiation. The parcels where the hotel was proposed have been clearly marked for “community commercial” land use and zoned for “mixed use-service commercial” in the Three Rivers Community Plan since it was approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1980 and reaffirmed in 2017. Because the land is zoned for service commercial it is considered a “by-right development” that doesn’t require a public hearing through the Tulare County Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors.
There was some concern about the effect the resort would have on existing businesses in town as the hotel being open 24 hours per day and 365 days per year. But there were economic benefits to the project as well. Sequoia Resort had planned to employ at least 45 full time employees, and 25-30 part time employees, according to the Patels’ operational statement. The other facilities would have employed 5-10 additional full-time employees, and 10-15 additional part time employees. Washam said that could create 78 permanent jobs over the first 20 years, generating an estimated $65 million in salaries and wages and $23 million in taxable sales and purchases from those earnings.
In addition, the Three Rivers Union School District would have received upward of $100,000 in school fees associated with the building permits alone. At full build-out, Washam said the development is estimated to generate $1 million per year in local taxes that will help offset the cost of providing services to the community.
“Three Rivers has not built a hotel in 20 years,” said Washam, despite being a gateway community for Sequoia National Park.
Opposition to development in Three Rivers remained fierce and included current controversy over plans for small guest ranches on the South Fork. Opponents of the ranches say South Fork Drive is inadequate for busier traffic conditions. The Paradise Sunshine Ranch, 49711 South Fork Drive, was limited to 15 guests overnight and was approved by the planning commission on Oct. 30. The project was appealed by both sides and was heard by the Board of Supervisors yesterday, Dec. 17, after press time. The planning commission also approved the Redwood Ranch project, 48808 South Fork Drive, at its Dec. 11 meeting. The special use permit would allow up to 100 people to stay overnight, but only 12 times per year. The deadline for appealing the project’s approval to the Board of Supervisors is this Friday, Dec. 20.
Washam said some opponents are so vehemently opposed to guest ranches and short-term rentals, they want to close the South Fork entrance to Sequoia National Park altogether.
– John Lindt is the publisher of Sierra2theSea.net, an online newspaper covering California’s Central Valley and Central Coast.