Texas-Based Company Testing If 29 Palms Will Give It A Variance To Develop A Resort In Indian Cove

Residents in the Indian Cove neighborhood of Twentynine Palms are loading up for a fight in which they intend to test whether their resolve to prevent the encroachment of what they say will prove to be an incompatible use in their midst can overcome the property rights of a Texas-based land company and its ability to coax from the city council a zone transition to create a resort near their homes.
Ofland Hospitality, formerly Yonder Hospitality, is a joint venture between Charles Tate and Noah Ellis focusing on the development of outdoor resorts in areas of the country with picturesque settings. The company’s first resort, Ofland Escalante, originally called Yonder Escalante, opened in April 2021 in southern Utah located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Bryce Canyon National Park. From Ofland’s corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas, Tate and Ellis are now working toward completing another project in the City of Townsend, Tennessee near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The duo have now set their sights on 152 acres they have tied up between Twentynine Palms Highway to the north, Sullivan Road to the south, Shoshone Valley Drive to the east and an extension of Lear Avenue to the west. That property, immediately adjacent to Indian Cove, is slightly more than 6.7 miles from the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, most of which distance can be travelled by a straight shot out Twentynine Palms Highway, also known as Highway 62.
Tate and Ellis envisage constructing 130 identical 320-square foot cabins on the central 50 acres of the 152-acre property. Each is to include a queen bed and sleeper sofa to comfortably sleep four. The units will also have an en-suite bathroom that leads to a covered and protected outdoor shower. Other elements of the resort include a main lodge with a pool and hot tubs. The main lodge will have a mixture of indoor and outdoor seating areas and be near the food and beverage building. The food and beverage concept is a fast-casual one which is to be open to guests and the public, offering two to three meals per day. Included in the plans is a private outdoor 16-foot tall movie screen intended to show what is termed “family-friendly movies and programming at appropriate times during the early evening.” Plans call for a 3-acre stargazing area in the center of the property to provide guests to the ability to enjoy what Tate and Ellis maintain will be one of the resort’s main attractions, the desert night sky.
Employee Housing is included in the project, according to Ofland publicist Josh Zipperman, to assure the project is not a detriment to the existing housing market. The resort will be staffed with on-site personnel for better safety, response, and operations, according to Zipperman. A manager will be on-property daily during the operating hours, and will reside on-site for after hours.
The resort will have a private septic treatment package system, in place only to service Ofland’s project.
According to Zipperman, Ofland’s standard development approach is to limit the project’s footprint only to what is required. “For Ofland Twentynine Palms, we are looking to development approximately 50 acres of the 152-acre site,” Ofland’s website states. “This excess land represents roughly 65% of the overall site, and will be conserved in perpetuity through easements and deed restrictions.”
According to Ofland, “Assuring our footprint utilizes and showcases the site’s resources is vital. Ofland plans to utilize rooftop solar panels on all cabins to offset electrical usage and utilizing existing and drought-resistant, native plants that require much less water.”
The company also maintains that “All buildings constructed on the parcel will be single-story to assure views from the Indian Cove neighborhood and scenic Highway 62 are not impeded. Each Ofland project is designed specifically to match local architectural and cultural styles and to showcase the High Desert’s landscape. Buildings will be natural and light-toned to blend into the desert scenery and for energy efficiency practices.”
Despite the enthusiasm Ofland is attempting to generate for the undertaking, it does appear that Tate and Ellis, as well as the company’s director of acquisitions, Luke Searcy, might have unrealistic expectations with regard to how readily their plan will be accepted by not only the city’s residents but municipal officials and how easily it will glide through the city’s approval process.
The company says that it is currently finalizing “an array of feasibility studies… conducted by local experts… to completely understand a variety of nuances of the existing land and to accurately project any influences the project would have on the parcel. These reports include a biological resource study, cultural resource study, traffic study, surveys, and greenhouse gas analysis.”
The company also sought to preview the project to local residents on November 1, when it was yet going by the corporate name Yonder, and again on February 28, both carried out at the Elks Lodge and featuring Searcy. At the February 28 presentation, Searcy was accompanied by Nicole Criste of Terra Nova Engineering, with whom Ofland is consulting in an effort to anticipate and satisfactorily respond to any concerns about the project the city will have and any conditions that are likely to be imposed on the developer.
Ofland has submitted a project pre-application to the City of Twentynine Palms, anticipating it would thereby be circulated to local, regional, and state stakeholders for input on the preliminary plans, such that the company will receive feedback with regard to any elements of the project seen as insufficient or potentially unsatisfactory, giving it an opportunity to amend the final application accordingly.
The land in question is currently zoned to accommodate residences, but only ones build on minimal 2.5-acre lots. Therefore, for the property to be developed as a resort, the city will need to grant Ofland either a zone change or a variance, along with a conditional use permit. Ofland anticipates, perhaps somewhat unreasonably given the sentiment of an overwhelming number of residents in and around Indian Cove, that either a zone change or variance and the accompanying conditional use permit will be little more than a hop, skip and a jump.
“In 2024, at the conclusion of Ofland’s due diligence and after pre-application feedback is received and incorporated into the design, Ofland will present before the Twentynine Palms Planning Commission the final project plans,” Offland’s website states. “The planning commission will provide input, mitigations, and revisions to the project plans, and will ultimately vote on the approval of a conditional use permit.”
Ofland is hoping that it can get that clearance and environmental certification for the project through the city council’s granting of a mitigated negative declaration.
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 involved 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 city’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.
Indian Cove residents are intent on pushing the Twentynine Palms Planning Commission that it recommend that the city council insist on the Ofland Twentynine Palms project, as the resort proposal has been dubbed, be subject to a full-blown environmental impact report. That would make the project an expensive proposition for Ofland, as carrying out the process to provide the report would run, potentially, to several hundred thousand dollars and the report would potentially specify mitigation measures that might range anywhere from tens of thousands of dollars to, conceivably, beyond $1 million.
Resort development proposals in that neck of the woods have not fared particularly well lately.
In April 2023, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission made a recommendation against approving the Wonder Valley Inn, a project proposal by Alan Greenberg and Jason Landver to develop a 106-room resort hotel to be located on 24.4 acres off Amboy Road not too distant from Gammell Road in Wonder Valley. In March 2023, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission considered but failed to reach a decision on and therefore passively denied a camping resort project proposed on raw land in Flamingo Heights area near Landers by a Los Angeles-based real estate speculation outfit, the RoBott Land Company.
-Mark Gutglueck

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