Last year, 18 developers were invited to look at the city-owned lot near Clara and 5th streets in Port Hueneme, and, last year, 18 developers told Port Hueneme city officials to try to sell it to someone else.
Their reluctance, said Community Development Director Tom Figg, probably had something to do with the 150-foot water tower that stands like a mutant daddy-long-legs smack in the middle of the residentially zoned parcel.
Then came along developer No. 19, who was willing to view the 250,000-gallon tower not as a deformed insect, but as a hot-air balloon that could be color-coordinated to match a 14-unit housing project on the 1.25-acre site.
On Tuesday, the Port Hueneme Planning Commission approved the residential complex, known as Bubbling Springs Villa, as well as the balloon design, which will consist of painting the tower blue and white and suspending a basket made of sheet metal to resemble a passenger compartment.
"Every once in a while during our lives we have the opportunity to be a part of something special," said Ron Fuller of Santa Barbara-based Fuller Development Co., adding that he would not have proposed the housing plan without the city's support for the balloon theme.
The idea for giving the tower an aesthetic treatment surfaced about two years ago in discussions among members of the city's Recreation and Fine Arts Commission.
After meeting with artists and holding a contest among schoolchildren, the commission narrowed down the possibilities to three different themes, which included colorful figures of children holding hands around the circumference, as well as a more contemporary design that featured large sheets of fabric draped throughout the structure's framework.
Baloon Motif Favored
The balloon motif, however, was favored by the commission. It calls for painting the round water tank in a striped pattern to resemble the balloon and painting the six support legs a bluish color so that they blend into the sky.
The metal basket will hang about 50 feet below the tank and will be strung by 2-inch-diameter nylon rigging rope.
A fence and giant eucalyptus trees will surround the base.
"They felt that the hot-air balloon made sense--it was something that belonged in the air, which is where the tower is," said Dawn Erickson, the city's director of recreation and community services. "It was an uplifting type of thing."
In the meantime, the city's maintenance yard had been moved from the site and officials were looking for a developer who might be interested in the property.
Figg said he first looked into removing the water tower but was told that it was needed as a backup supply for emergencies. So he decided to try selling the triangular parcel as a complete package, imposing monument and all.
After 18 developers rejected the idea, Fuller was invited to view the lot. Upon learning of the balloon design, he was sold.
"It was like, who wants to live underneath a water tower? It's such an ominous threatening thing," said Fuller's son and business partner, Andrew. "But the challenge was exciting."
The $83,000 cost of transforming the tower, which can be seen from nearly a mile in all directions, will be absorbed by the developer, although city officials said they would credit that expenditure to the purchase price of the 1.25-acre parcel.
It would have cost Port Hueneme about $65,000 to give a much-needed paint job to the ominous silver structure, which stands in the city's former municipal maintenance yard, officials said.
"We're turning a liability into an asset," Figg said.