Crews are already doing groundwork off Highway 41 for the first of three hotels the developer wanted to build on a large lot. But now he says he might back out of the project altogether. Construction workers are leveling the ground for a new Holiday Inn Express and Suites, and several stacks of lumber have arrived at the site. But now the project could come to a sudden stop.
"It would be very disappointing for the community because we certainly need the employment; we need some more hotels because it's a main route up to Yosemite," said Ron Thompson, a Madera County resident.
The Patel family initially planned to build the Holiday Inn Express and then add a Fairfield Inn and Suites and a Hampton Inn. The family already owns several other hotels in Oakhurst and Mariposa.
Paul Patel told Action News over the phone that the new ones would create more than 100 jobs and give the county $1.5 million each year in transient occupancy and property taxes. He feels the county is now making unfair demands for a huge water tank and other expensive changes. But Madera County Fire Marshal Deborah Keenan says the requirements are a matter of public safety.
"Unfortunately the water company is not able to produce the 3,000 gallons a minute, so a water tank is required to be built," said Keenan.
Keenan says sufficient water is critical to fight fires in this community because of limited engines nearby and largely volunteer crews. Just last May, flames destroyed the Oakhurst Lodge, and it took several hours to contain the blaze. Keenan also says the new hotels would be the area's largest development in more than a decade.
"Four-story building, 60,000 square foot, and we don't have the primary tool we need to fight the fire, that's a huge liability for our fire staff who are risking their lives to go in there and also the county in general," said Keenan.
Despite the challenges, Supervisor Tom Wheeler says the project is very important to his district, and he plans to continue working with the Patel family to make it happen.
Madera County Director of Planning and Building Norman L. Allinder, released the following statement to Action News on Monday afternoon:
"Madera County has worked extensively with the developer of the proposed hotels in Oakhurst. We have had numerous meetings over the past several months with the project team, and it is unfortunate at this time that the developer is unable to meet the minimum requirements of the 2013 California Building Code, and California Fire Code. We remain optimistic that the developer will at a later date meet the minimum requirements to ensure the safety of the future occupants and existing community of Oakhurst."
Patel had hoped to open the Holiday Inn Express by this summer and finish the other two hotels by the end of the year. He says he'll make a decision on whether to move forward by the end of the week.