Health Center Plans Face SOAR Scrutiny

Officials at St. Joseph's Health & Retirement Center in Ojai hope to expand the facility, but the project may be delayed because of the countywide open space protection measure.

At issue is the proposed removal of orange trees surrounding the East Ojai Avenue facility.

On July 29, the county Planning Commission will review the expansion plan, one of the first projects to potentially go for a countywide public vote for approval under the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources measure.

The plans, which include building a new structure on the Brothers of St. John of God's property in addition to retrofitting the existing structure, have been reviewed by county planners and the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council and Ojai Planning Commission.

A Sept. 14 hearing is scheduled for the Board of Supervisors, and from there--if approved--the plans would go on the March 2000 countywide ballot.

Expansion of the facilities is at the heart of the plans, said Brother Hugo of St. Joseph's. He said the need for the care-taking services they offer has grown over the years.

William Howard Wittausch, the architect and civil engineer for the project, said a two-story structure would be built to accommodate 28 beds from the old building and 32 new beds.

Because the old building--constructed in 1960--no longer meets many state codes and standards, Wittausch said it would be retrofitted before being converted into an assisted-living facility. This would include bringing the building up to date with wiring, plumbing and seismic standards.

In order to make way for the new building, however, several orange trees on the property would have to be moved. To nullify the effect that removing the orange trees would have, Wittausch said the possibility of off-site mitigation is being explored.

He said area ranchers have offered uncultivated land for orange groves, replacing two acres of trees for every one acre lost from the center's expansion. Wittausch said this proposal is still being evaluated.

Removal of more than two acres of agriculturally-used land infringes on SOAR guidelines, Wittausch said.

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