|By Andrew Silva, San Bernardino County
Sun, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Sep. 7, 2006 -- SAN BERNARDINO -- A past playground for the rich and famous, now envisioned as the future crown jewel of the city, needs further work on its environmental review document, a Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
The developer and city officials are confident the deficiency can be easily corrected and did not expect the project to be delayed.
"The mood in City Hall -- was very positive after the court case today," City Attorney James F. Penman said.
The Arrowhead Springs hotel and resort just off Waterman Avenue north of the city, was once a favorite destination among the stars of Hollywood's golden age before it was bought by Campus Crusade for Christ in 1962, which still owns the property.
An ambitious plan to restore the area to its former glory, including its signature 1939 luxury hotel, was approved by the City Council in November.
The plan calls for the renovation and expansion of the historic Arrowhead Springs Hotel from 135 rooms to 250, plus another 300-room hotel, along with a conference center, health spa, about 800 condominiums and 550 homes on 1,900 acres.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued in December, arguing the environmental review was not detailed enough to satisfy the law.
Judge John Wade ruled that the developer, American Development Group, needs to provide a detailed explanation for why the proposed golf course along West Twin Creek, which runs through Waterman Canyon, is economically necessary for the project to succeed.
"We do not regard it as a minor fix," said Adam Keats, an attorney with the environmental group. "They will have to prove it's infeasible to do the project without the golf course."
The golf course will also be designed to serve as a flood-control feature along the creek. On Dec. 25, 2003, 14 people were killed when a debris flow wiped out a church camp upstream.
The fairways would be sacrificed during a major flood, said Thomas Thornburgh, president of American Development Group. But proving the golf course is essential to make the project attractive enough to succeed should be no problem, he said.
"That's probably the easiest question of all to answer," he said.
Not including the economic analysis of the golf course in the environmental review was an oversight that is easily fixed, and could be finished as early as next month, he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity worried that including a specific project in a very general environmental review for a citywide general plan was a back-door way of avoiding the detailed studies of possible impacts, Keats said.
More specific, rigorous studies and reviews will be required before the project is allowed to proceed, Thornburgh and city officials said.
The project lies outside the city limits, but San Bernardino is trying to annex the property. The hotels, homes and businesses could generate more than $1 million in taxes and fees for the city.
Officials see it as a potential boon, both economically and for the city's battered image.
"The city of San Bernardino became interested from the beginning because the Arrowhead Springs Hotel was a jewel that needed to be restored," Councilwoman Wendy McCammack said. "Then you've got yourself an attraction; you've got yourself a destination, something a city that's so poor in its tax base definitely needs."
Mayor Pat Morris' son and chief of staff, Jim Morris, served on the Planning Commission when the project was approved and is familiar with state environmental laws.
"To me, it's a pretty darn good project in terms of environmental responsibility," he said, adding that the area was previously developed and is not pristine.
He compared the potential of the Arrowhead Springs Hotel to the historic Mission Inn in Riverside, which became a symbol of that city's revitalization.
A restored Arrowhead Springs Hotel and the surrounding high-end development would signal a new direction for San Bernardino, he said.
"That's a pretty strong statement about where the community is heading," he said. "To let it be squandered up there and not take advantage of the opportunity would be foolish."
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