Wonder Valley Resort Development Proposal Contains Hidden Residential Component

A resort project proposed for development on just over 21 acres at the corner of Amboy Road and Gammel Road in Wonder Valley is to be augmented with a residential component on the surrounding 138.78 acres, one of the principals in the undertaking told the Sentinel this week.
In November 2021, Alan Greenberg and Jason Landver applied for a conditional use permit, including a rezoning request, for the majority of 21.22 acres on the corner lot site in the remote desert community which are currently zoned for low density housing. The 3.18 acres closest to the two roads is already zoned for commercial service use, while the remaining 18.4 acres bear the county’s RL-5 zoning designation. The request is to designate all 21.22 acres as suitable for commercial service use, or CS in the county’s zoning parlance. The current RL-5 designation allows single family homes on lots no smaller than five acres. Greenberg and Landver have acquired 160 acres at the Amboy/Gammel corner location.Since even before Greenberg and his consultant David Mlynarski previewed the proposal to the Wonder Valley community in May 2021, a growing number of locals have raised objectives to the character and scope of the project. Meanwhile, the San Bernardino County Land Use Services Department has proceeded with its processing of Greenberg and Landvder’s application and appears purposed to allow the project to proceed, subject to what many locals consider to be an inadequate environmental certification.
Because Greenberg & Landver acquired 160 acres in Wonder Valley, far more land than the 21.22 acres upon which the Wonder Valley Inn is to be constructed, rumors and reports abounded that the duo’s undertaking was more energetic and further-reaching than the 106-room hotel and accompanying facilities.
The prospect that the contemplated land use at the confluence of paved Amboy Road and unpaved Gammel Road would confine itself to the resort apparently led the San Bernardino County Department of Land Use Services and the two staff members who are processing Greenberg & Landver’s application, Senior Planner Azhar Khan and Supervising Planner Chris Warrick, to conclude that a mitigated negative declaration for the project would suffice. Landver’s acknowledgment that he and Goldberg intend to proceed with a project or combination of projects entailing nearly eight times as much land as was previously indicated throws into doubt whether Greenberg & Landver can proceed with the project by carrying out an environmental certification on the cheap.
On January 13, 2023, the San Bernardino County Department of Land Use Services released its initial study of the project, indicating it would accept a negative mitigation declaration in carrying out the environmental certification of the project during its approval process.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act, most development projects are subjected to an environmental certification process. Some types of environmental certification are more intensive than others, ranging from an environmental impact report to an environmental impact study to an environmental assessment to an environmental examination to a mitigated negative declaration to a negative declaration.
An environmental impact report, the most involved type of environmental analysis and certification there is, consists of an in-depth study of the project site, the project proposal, the potential and actual impacts the project will have on the site and surrounding area in terms of all conceivable issues, including land use, water use, air quality, potential contamination, noise, traffic, and biological and cultural resources. An environmental impact report specifies in detail what measures can, will and must be carried out to offset those impacts. A mitigated negative declaration falls near the other end of the scale, and exists as a far less exacting size-up of the impacts of a project, by which the panel entrusted with the jurisdiction’s ultimate land use authority, as in the case of Wonder Valley either the county planning commission or the board of supervisors, issues a declaration that all adverse environmental impacts from the project will be mitigated, or offset, by the conditions of approval of the project imposed upon the developer.
Neither Khan, the staff member with the San Bernardino County Department of Land Use Services processing the development application, nor Chris Warrick, the supervising planner overseeing Khan, were aware of Greenberg’s and Landver’s intentions of following through with the development of the remaining acreage they had acquired beyond that slated for development as a hotel/resort. While many Wonder Valley residents have already contended that the mitigated negative declaration was insufficient to catalog the impacts that will arise out of the resort development, the acknowledgment that the development of the property will entail significantly more building and alteration of the desert than was heretofore known is likely to force Khan, Warrick and the county to accede to the requests of nearby residents that a far more thorough effort at cataloging the impacts of the projects and the mitigations necessary to offset them be carried out.
Landver is the chief marketing officer of the Palari Group, which touts itself as “a vertically integrated company with in-house development, construction, asset management, sales and technology divisions” that functions as “a technology-driven developer of sustainable communities” utilizing “3D printing, panelized steel, and prefabrication to build better, faster and greener communities and homes of the future.”
Landver celebrated the Wonder Valley Inn as an addition to the community that “will promote international tourism” by providing “a place for those who have come to the national park to rest their heads. There are only three motels in Joshua Tree. Those are motels and not hotels. This will give them an opportunity to have nice accommodations, a place for them to stay at night.”
The resort, he insisted, will be “ecologically friendly and self-contained, an eco-reserve that will confine itself to zero use of energy. We want to make it completely self-sustained. Electricity will be provided by solar panels. There are wells on the property. We will be reusing water, recycling the gray water to irrigate the plants. We want to make it sustainable. I am part of the younger generation, and I want the desert and Planet Earth to be around for my grandchildren, to not suck the resources from the land. We have learned from the mistakes of the past. We are not going to be using plastics. We want this to be ecological in every aspect. We will have charging stations for electrical cars.”
Landver acknowledged the rural and remote aspect of the district where his and Greenberg’s projects are to be located, but downplayed the degree to which the development would impact the area.
“We are looking forward to creating an increase in tourism,” he said. “[Joshua Tree National Park] is one of the wonders of the world. What we are doing will help people to discover and enjoy that amazing park. We think that’s a good thing for society, to make it so more people can appreciate that desert land. I understand that the people who live there want to see the dark night sky and feel the calm air. We want to provide that setting for others who do not live there. We don’t want to light up the dark sky. We do not want to disrupt the stillness. We will have meditation rooms that local residents can use. The restaurant will be another place for the residents to enjoy. We see the resort as a place that is reaching toward spirituality and making a connection with the earth. I don’t know where the residents got the idea that it is going to be like a Miami nightclub. This is being built for the public, those who will come into the area because of the national park and for local residents, like those who want to take a yoga class. It is important to let the world see the majesty of Joshua Tree, and not just the residents.”
Landver said that optimistically from his standpoint the resort will be completed and ready for opening at some point in 2025.
He indicated that the residential component of the development he and Greenberg are proposing will be, again optimistically, available for occupancy roughly a year after the hotel resort is up and running.
“The residential units will come in 2026 or maybe later,” he said.
Those units will consist of prefabricated one story, 2,000 square foot homes, he said.
He said the housing component “is very much down the line. We haven’t even started preplanning. We know that the land we have around the resort property is zoned for homes. It would be nice to put up some homes [at the same time that the resort is being developed] but that would not happen. The earliest would be 2026, with everything that has to be done, and I’m shooting off into the dark by saying 2026. My point is the land is zoned only for homes. Most likely it would be around 20 homes. That’s one house for about every 250,000 square feet. This won’t be like the gated communities in Palm Springs. It is not going to look like that. There will not be anywhere near the number of houses you see in other places. It is not going to be apartments or condominiums. If it is going to be homes, it will be very sparse. They are not going to be close to one another. The zoning is for one home for every five acres. Those are the rules that the county has. We will follow the guidelines. We can’t make up our own rules.”
Landver added, “One thing I would mention is these are to be prefabricated homes, which are many times better for the environment than stick homes. In a normal residential development, 30 to 40 percent of the building materials used end up in a landfill. That is not the case with prefabricated homes. This is going to be light on the environment. Instead of hundreds of hammers hammering and bulldozers clearing the property, we will have one crane dropping the prefabricated buildings into place. This will not take away from the way of life the residents now have.”
In his remarks to the Sentinel, Landver librated between enthusiasm for the economic development he said his and Greenberg’s efforts would represent for the community and an effort at providing assurance that the changes to the desert landscape would have no appreciable impact on the quality and pace of life of those already living in Wonder Valley.
“Even though there will be more cars on Amboy Road, the people of Wonder Valley will be gaining a lot in terms of how they will have more money for health care and other needs every county has,” Landver said. “We will be creating local jobs. We want to hire people locally. We are not going to be bringing people in from Texas to work at the resort. There is a need for people to have jobs so they can pay their bills and rent.”
Landver said, “As tourism increases, all of the money that comes in will go to local restaurants, coffee shops, local businesses in the community, flower shops, general stores and markets. A hotel will create a lot of tax revenue and that tax revenue goes back into the community. Wonder Valley lost its fire station and the paramedics. It now takes a long time for those paramedics to respond to emergencies. San Bernardino County is obligated to put any increase in tax money back into the community it came from. This will increase services. The local residents do not realize that our hotel will put millions of dollars back into their community. They will be able to bring the fire department and paramedics back.”
Landver suggested, somewhat improbably, that the local populace is more in favor of the resort project than opposed to it. He admitted that some Wonder Valley residents had gone on record against the proposal and that a grassroots movement contesting the adequacy of the mitigated negative declaration for the project and the application for its approval had formed, but he claimed those naysayers were outnumbered by those who want to see the project proceed.
“There have been over 300 people who have sent letters of support of the Wonder Valley Inn,” he said. “There are as many letters saying ‘We support the project’ as ‘We don’t support the project.’ There are plenty of people who are very pleased with what we are doing, but they are scared to come out and say so. They support us behind the scenes. The county is receiving letters of support and they have reported that to us. There are hundreds of people who live in Twentynine Palms who support the project. The truth is more people support the project than oppose it, but you hear more from the ones who are against it. All of the concern the residents have about the project we have thought about and planned for and that means we are following the state’s regulations on everything from sound, environmental issues, disrupting the night sky. We are not designing this on the back of a napkin. We are trying to be considerate of each of these things and the state environmental regulations are there to make sure we do that. We are using our resources to mitigate those things. We don’t want to disturb the way of life, the water availability, the sound level, the night sky.”
The development of the entirety of the 160 acres presents nothing for anyone to worry about, Landver said, and those working themselves into a lather over it are being unduly alarmist, he said.
“That land was a jojoba bean farm,” he said. “It used 100,000 times more water than what we will be using. We won’t be using anywhere near the water the farm used. We will have drought tolerant plants. Everything has been considered. It breaks my heart that we put a lot of time and effort into not disturbing the land and no one appreciates that.”
Mark Gutglueck

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