Hotel redevelopment could spur revitalized Channel Islands Harbor

SAN DIEGO — Abandoned since 2009 the former Casa Sirena Hotel in Oxnard has been an eyesore on the Channel Islands Harbor waterfront. Plans to demolish Casa Sirena and rebuild a new hotel have been discussed for years. Those plans recently received a little wind in the sails thanks to a California Coastal Commission approval of a Public Works Plan amendment on July 14, opening the door for redevelopment of a dilapidated stretch of land in the heart of Channel Islands Harbor.

Upgrading Casa Sirena is part of Ventura County’s larger vision to revitalize the Channel Harbor Islands area into a more attractive visitor-serving destination on the Oxnard waterfront.

Steve Hudson, a district manager with the Coastal Commission, said current plans call for a more compact and efficient building footprint than the original design of Casa Sirena, meaning more view corridors would be available to the public.

Coastal Commission staff acknowledged Casa Sirena, which opened in 1972, has fallen into a state of disrepair; the hotel has been closed since 2009. Ventura County assumed ownership of the hotel site in 2014.

“This redevelopment of the site will allow for significant improvement of public access across the entire area,” Hudson said, pointing out a longer public promenade would border the edge of the waterfront.

Commissioners only approved technical changes to the project; the city would need to issue a separate notice and commission approval for the actual demolition and construction of the new hotel.

The commission’s action was necessary, according to Hudson, to allow for greater building heights. He also said the Channel Islands Harbor area was devoid of affordable hotel options. The only other option in the area is a neighboring Hampton Inn.

“Low and moderate cost visitor-serving overnight accommodations within the coastal zone have become increasingly limited,” Hudson told commissioners during his report presentation.

The commission developed a formula to determine what constitutes low, moderate and high cost accommodations within the state of California, according to Hudson. He said a low cost accommodation rate is $112 per night, compared to $186 per night for high cost; the average cost for a hotel or motel room across the state was $149 per night.

The approved amendment would increase the height restrictions in the area from 25 to 55 feet. The current structure is already at 43 feet, so the new building would only be 12 feet taller. As many as 300 rooms could be allowed under the new Public Works Plan, up from 274.

“Of course that hotel has been closed for several years now but from the allowable land use on site this is not a significant increase from what was previously operating on this property,” Hudson told commissioners.

He added a licensed traffic study found the project would not result in a significant increase in vehicular congestion in the area.

Ventura County Harbor Department Director Lyn Krieger outlined details of the proposed project, telling commissioners the new hotel would feature between 205 and 210 rooms (up from 184 rooms at the former Casa Sirena Hotel).

“This hotel is a key project,” Krieger told commissioners. “If you come in the harbor from the water it’s the first thing you see. If you eat at any of our restaurants it’s also the first thing you see looking out across the waters. It’s important as an anchor for visitor service but it’s also important financially for the harbor.”

Steve Kinney addressed the commission on behalf of Friends of Channel Islands Harbor (a division of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce) and spoke in favor of the project and said a new hotel would be greatly welcomed by the harbor’s vendors and businesses.

Hollywood Beach resident Judy Dugan also supported the project as a whole but raised questions about the traffic study. She said the traffic analysis only studied the proposed project’s impacts on local businesses and did not include broader implications on recreational or other visitor-serving uses.

“Anyone who lives [near the hotel] knows on a weekend, in the summer, traffic is far, far different than it is on any weekday in any other part of the year,” Dugan said. “Holidays, summer and weekends are when we need to measure the traffic in order to determine what the mitigation out to be.”

Commissioner Carole Groom asked commission staff to include traffic monitoring and oversight when the full project comes back to the stage agency for approval.

Commission Chair Steve Kinsey wondered how low or moderate cost hotel options could be offered in an area where only two hotels exist.

“I do think you are going to have a hard time achieving comparable affordability in the harbor given the limited number of sites that are zoned for that type of use,” Kinsey told commission staff.

This is Ventura County’s second attempt to redevelop Casa Sirena; the attempt failed to move forward due to the 2008 recession.

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