DAILY BRIEFING: Land discussions, an honor for Cohn, and more

Good morning. It’s Friday, April 1. Expect sunny skies and a high of 87 degrees today. The weekend will see similar weather. First, some news you need to know …

City to seek input about Bel Air Greens, former COD land at outreach sessions

What to do with two significant pieces of property in Palm Springs will be at the center of discussions that could help shape the future of both housing and open space in the city for decades.

The first discussion is scheduled for April 6 via Zoom. It’s designed to take input on plans to build 70 homes on 35 acres that once housed the Bel Air Greens golf course off El Cielo Road. The second, initially scheduled for April 7 at the James O. Jessie Desert Highland Unity Center, will be rescheduled due to a conflict with a City Council meeting scheduled for the same evening. When held, it will provide an opportunity to voice opinions about what should happen on 119 acres in northern Palm Springs once slated for a College of the Desert satellite campus. Neither piece of property is currently zoned to allow home construction, but those in control of the land want to change that.

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Both meetings are designed as outreach sessions conducted by city Planning Services Department staff. There will be no final decisions or votes at either.

During the meetings, city staff will most likely hear comments similar to those made at public meetings and on social media sites for years: Palm Springs lacks housing that’s affordable for working-class families and prides itself on scenic open spaces enjoyed by residents and visitors that is also critical to habitat. Finding a balance between the two often pits neighbors against each other and places city leaders in the hot seat.

In the case of the former golf course, the leaseholder of the land took the first step in building homes on the property five months ago, filing an “Intent to Convert Application” that will be discussed on April 6. That application caused a sense of urgency among members of Oswit Land Trust (OLT), which has been working to purchase the site from the landowners — five members of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians — in order to include it in the nonprofit’s proposed Mesquite Desert Preserve.

The president of OLT, Jane Garrison, is once again rallying the community to submit comments to the city and attend the meeting. This week, she said that OLT has not been able to secure a purchase agreement for the former golf course land and believes the fact her organization is limited to paying appraised value for it as a condition of the grant is hampering a deal.

“The lessee knows this,” Garrison said of the grant requirement. “He either just wants to sell for development to make more money than we are willing to pay, or this is an attempt to increase the value of the property if he were to get development entitlements.”

In the case of 119 acres adjacent to the Desert Highland Gateway Estates neighborhood, a developer wants to build more than 850 units there but first needs to purchase the land from College of the Desert (COD). The city purchased the land for $2 million a decade ago and gave it to COD in hopes of seeing a satellite campus constructed. After spending $6 million planning the campus, COD abandoned those plans and purchased 29 acres in the center of the city, where it now plans to build a campus.

Watermarke Homes, which built 500 homes in the adjoining Mountain Gate community between 2005 and 2008, has submitted a specific plan amendment, zone change, general plan amendment, and architectural review to the city in anticipation of purchasing the land from the college. However, the sale remains in limbo until the underlying issues of whether housing should be allowed on the land and whether any of that housing should be required to be below the market rate is decided.

“We have not closed escrow on the property yet,” said Dave Cooper, a Watermarke project manager. “We do have an open escrow, but it is currently on hold for the determination between the city and COD.”

If and when deals are reached between all parties, Watermarke said it would like to build 364 condominiums and 488 single-family homes, with prices ranging from the $300,000s to $500,000s. Nobody has stepped forward to ask that the property remain open space. Still, objections were raised about the pricing of the homes during a meeting with the Desert Highland Gateway Estates community last November.

“We want homeownership,” Deiter Crawford, vice president of the Desert Highland Gateway Estates Community Action Association, told the developer during the meeting. “…What we want is for people in our community to be homeowners.”

City leaders want the same and have stated they favor requiring some planned homes to be below market rate. A similar deal was reached with Watermarke when it built Mountain Gate and is seen as one way to give value back to residents when and if COD profits off the sale of land it was given for a college campus never built.


More information: Instructions on participating in the Bel Air Greens meeting can be found here. Details on the former COD land meeting will be announced shortly.


? Briefly

Kathy Cohn (left) and Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton.

COHN HONORED: Kathy Cohn of Palm Springs was one of 11 recipients of a Senior Inspiration Award Thursday during a luncheon held at the Fantasy Springs Resort Special Events Center. Cohn, who has served as chair of the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS), chair of Sunrise Park Neighborhood Organization, and currently serves on the board of ONE-PS, was selected by Mayor Lisa Middleton as the city’s honoree at the 30th annual event. Each year, a resident of each of the nine valley cities, as well as two residents living in unincorporated areas of Riverside County, are honored for their longtime community volunteer service.

EVENT CANCELED: The executive director of AAP – Food Samaritans said Thursday the organization’s annual Evening Under the Stars fundraising gala, scheduled to take place at the O’Donnell Golf Club on April 30, has been canceled. This will be the third consecutive cancellation of the event. Mark Anton said Thursday that supply chain issues, labor shortages, food cost increases, and other factors were to blame for the cancellation. In a message to supporters, he said, “The catering alone for our traditional formal seated dinner has risen a staggering 43%.” The organization says the cost of the event would outweigh the benefit, which would reduce the level of support they can offer to their clients. Anton promised the organization is strategizing how best to reinvent the gala for spring of next year. AAP – Food Samaritans will honor refunds for supporters, but suggested that those who purchased a ticket or table consider donating it to the organization. The nonprofit organization provides nutritional support for low-income people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. For more information, visit aapfoodsamaritans.org.

WRITERS GUILD WINNER: The Palm Springs Writers Guild announced its $5,000 college scholarship winner this week. The recipient, Wendy Alejandra Cadena from Desert Hot Springs High School, demonstrated excellence in writing and community service. The Guild will honor Cadena at a ceremony at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Cathedral City Public Library Community Center Room, 33520 Date Palm Dr.. The Guild is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and supporting aspiring and established writers in the Coachella Valley. To further encourage student writers and uplift their voices, the Guild also sponsors writing contests with local high schools, awarding the winning students cash prizes. For more information, you can visit the organization’s website here


? Weekend events

  • Free Covid-19 testing is offered outside the Palm Springs Convention Center today starting at 8:30 a.m.
     
  • Palm Canyon Theatre is staging its next performance, Cyrano de Bergerac, through Sunday.
     
  • Desert Ensemble Theatre presents All This Intimacy tonight through Sunday.
     
  • Dezart Performs presents Every Brilliant Thing starting tonight and running through April 10.
     
  • Salon Rouge returns to the Palm Springs International Dance Festival, presented by Nickerson-Rossi Dance, with Ballroom Bash! tonight starting at 6 p.m. at Desert Rose Playhouse.
     
  • Well in the Desert distributes food every Saturday at 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. at 181 N. Indian Canyon Dr.
     
  • The Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market takes place at 2300 E. Baristo Rd. from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
     
  • Palm Springs Genealogical Society meets online Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
     
  • The fifth annual STEM Conference for families, presented by Palm Springs Unified School District, is Saturday at Raymond Cree Middle School, starting at 9 a.m.
     
  • The Palm Springs Animal Shelter’s Faux Fur Ball is Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Palm Springs Air Museum.
     
  • If you’re looking to get out of town, but not too far out of town, California Desert Chorale is presenting Bach to Broadway Sunday at 3 p.m. in Palm Desert 

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