Planning Commission denies extension for Orchid Tree Inn, asks that city consider receivership

During a one-hour hearing on the extension request, frustrations were evident from both commissioners and the developer. The project has been working its way through City Hall since 2015.

The developer of a long-awaited project in the heart of downtown was not only denied an extension on a date to break ground Wednesday evening, but the issue will now be kicked to the Palm Springs City Council with a unanimous recommendation from the Planning Commission that the city take the project into receivership. 

Weintraub Real Estate Group is hoping to build a planned hotel and spa on three acres located off West Baristo Road. The property is the site of the former Orchid Tree Inn and Community Church. Buildings at the site back to the 1930s but have remained vacant for many years. Multiple fires have plagued the property, including one in 2013 that nearly burned the historic church to the ground.

At issue for the Planning Commission Wednesday evening was whether to grant the extension until May 2023. Last November the City Council approved a similar request that expired two months ago. Weintraub was also seeking approval to build a spa on the second story of the former church and an open-air patio bar elsewhere on the property. 

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During a one-hour hearing on the request, frustrations were evident from commissioners, many of whom have watched the project slowly work its way through City Hall since 2015.

“This project has been dragging on for years and years and years, and it’s a massive visual blight in our downtown and it’s not gotten better,” said Commission Vice Chair JR Roberts.

Fearing that the project would be sold after it was entitled, leaving the Commission to have to vote again on a hypothetical new plan, Roberts suggested the project be sent to the City Council to vote on and include an application to bring the project into receivership. 

The Orchid Tree Resort and Spa, as envisioned by its developer.

The commission voted unanimously to approve Roberts’ motion after it was noted that approving it would not entirely kill the project. 

“It will,” insisted Richard Weintraub, president and CEO of Weintraub Real Estate Group, who spoke during the meeting. 

But Jim Priest, the commission’s legal counsel, said Weintraub would have a chance to appeal the receivership if it is approved. 

“I think this is a City Council matter more than it’s a Planning Commission matter,” said Planning Commission Chair Kathy Weremiuk.And I think patience with this project has grown very thin. This is a project I loved the first time. I tolerated [it] the second time, and this time I don’t have much patience for [it], especially after I heard the comments about financing.”

Weremiuk had asked Weintraub about the project’s finances earlier in the meeting. In response, he said that in the last 60 days banks, given interest rate increases and inflation, “are definitely taking a breather in wanting to issue construction financing, especially for a hotel that’s costing about $1 million dollars per room. So, it’s about the most expensive hotel built in the Coachella Valley.”            

Frustration also mounted for the developer. Prior to the vote on Roberts’ motion, Weintraub’s pleas to respond to concerns voiced by Commission members were rejected. “What is the receivership for?” he asked before having his microphone muted. Moments later he appeared to disconnect from the Zoom meeting, mentioning that he would let his attorneys deal with the city going forward.

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