Flamingo Heights Planned Glamping Resort Raises Questions and Concerns - 25,000 Capacity Venue?
Updated: Apr 25
Update: We have heard that the applicant for this project has withdrawn their plans for a 25,000 capacity music venue and its related 90.5 acres of parking. However, all documents provided this week by Land Use Services for San Bernardino County, include the venue and parking. We will update again once we have received confirmation from the county about this withdrawal and we obtain written confirmation of it. Latest Update: While the county has noted that the venue and parking have been dropped from the application, Land Use Services has noted that items may be deleted and/or added to the application as it proceeds. At this time, we recommend that public comments continue to address the venue and parking aspects of the project.
Additional update: It has been stated in public forums and on social media that this project area is a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern. That is incorrect.
Mojave Watch has taken a dive into the proposed Flamingo Heights glamping resort from the Robott Land Company, Inc. of Beverly Hills. From the materials submitted to San Bernardino County's Land Use Services, there appears to be significant causes for concern.
Talking points assembled from the previous Zoom meeting addressing the development, led by the National Park Conservation Association's Chris Clarke, resulted in the following points for discussion and concern:
Habitat destruction: This is important habitat for many species, including desert tortoise (state endangered), western Joshua tree (state threatened), western burrowing owl (California Species of Special Concern), migratory birds (protected under the migratory bird treaty act) and other wildlife, including desert kit fox, mountain lion. Creosote rings and Mojave yucca clonal rings are present as well, some of them potentially thousands of years old. The 2006 biological survey report is here:
Parcel is also an important connectivity link between San Bernardino Mountains/Sand to Snow National Monument, Bighorn Mountain Wilderness, Marine Corps base, and Joshua Tree National Park. Development would remove that ecological value.
Parcel is in a priority conservation area, and land trusts are ready to offer fair market value for the property, protecting it in perpetuity.
Parcel is zoned RL (Rural Living), and conditional use permit wouldn’t mitigate the erosion of neighbors’ quiet enjoyment the RL zoning is designed to protect. This is especially true if the described helipad sees significant use. The proposed bar and restaurant add to the concern, as does the possibility that this would become an event venue. (For what little we know about the design, see Mojave Watch’s article on the project here.
Fire pits included in the proposal prompt the question: will operations include onsite staff who can restrict fire pit use during burning bans, high-wind events, or periods of high particulate matter counts? If not, who will be responsible for fire safety, and for environmental and public safety in general?
Wastewater: Plans (see Mojave Watch) suggest that wastewater will be directed to a leach field on the property, north of the resort. A stormwater retention basin will be sited immediately east of the sewage disposal leach field. What volume of waste water is projected to be disposed of via this leach field (considering perhaps 200-300 guests in a typical weekend in season)? Are hydrology studies available that ensure this large addition of wastewater won’t infiltrate into neighbors’ wells (there are at least 61 domestic wells within a few miles downstream) or the aquifer serving Bighorn Desert View Water Agency? Would stormwater capture from the project’s hardened surfaces accentuate this percolation of sewage?
Water supply: there is no water supply to this property. The parcel is not in the service area of either Bighorn Desert View or High Desert Water District. In order to develop the property in line with basic building codes, Bighorn Desert View would have to agree to build a pipeline to serve the property, at the land owner’s expense. Have owners contacted Bighorn Desert View, and what is the likelihood that the water agency would actually agree to serve this facility?
(MW Note: It appears Bighorn-Desert View Water District has pipeline to the NW corner of the project site and has agreed to provide service.)
Noise and light: Will the entire facility be available for rent to one party for special events? Will concerts or festivals be planned here? How many helicopter landings/departures are envisioned per month? Studies of potential noise levels should be undertaken. Lighting sufficient for hundreds of guests, plus ambient light from lodging units, fires, visitor headlights, party lights, and other sources of illumination are likely to pose a substantial addition to light trespass in this relatively dark area, posing threats to safety, wildlife, and quiet enjoyment by neighbors.
Traffic safety: Old Woman Springs Road is a dangerous highway, more so when crowded. In the last five years there have been more than a dozen accidents in the stretch of highway between Aberdeen and Reche that were serious enough to have had first responder involvement. Adding more than 100 cars exiting and entering the highway here during busy hours will prove dangerous, especially given drivers who pick up speed once they emerge from Pipes Canyon south of the project. A thorough traffic study, dedicated turn lanes, and perhaps a stop light should be considered if the project goes forward. The likelihood of extra costs to the county for first responders should be assessed.
Steve Brown, director of Mojave Watch and a hi-desert resident and journalist for more than 20 years, submitted the following letter voicing some of his concerns and objections to the proposed project, which goes beyond luxury glamping to include a concert venue that would host up to 25,000 attendees and provides 90.5 acres of "temporary" parking for events on site.
Please accept this as my comments upon Project # PROJ-2020-00191, Assessor Parcel Number (APN) 0629-181-01, proposed for Flamingo Heights, on Highway 247. I am submitting these comments not only as director for Mojave Watch, but also as a local hi-desert resident for the past 21 years.
The glamping resort proposed for a 640-acre site in Flamingo Heights, directly east of Highway 247, raises a number of significant concerns which must be addressed prior to approval. I am not, in general, opposed to the creation of this resort. I believe our area could benefit from appropriate glamping facilities that would provide unique and fun lodging opportunities for the three million annual visitors to Joshua Tree National Park.
However, there are significant dangers presented to not only visitors, but local residents, and the desert environment, should these projects not be constructed appropriately, and those dangers and the risk of harm should not be overlooked by the agencies that will oversee the approval process for these projects.
There are numerous points that need to be considered for this particular project, prior to consideration of approval. My concerns are as follows:
Traffic safety and control.
First and foremost, traffic safety and control must be addressed for this project. All traffic from this resort heading to Joshua Tree National Park, the Sand to Snow National Monument, the towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, Pioneertown, and Twentynine Palms, will be turning left from this resort out onto Highway 247. Highway 247/Old Woman Springs Road is not only becoming rapidly obsolete in its ability to carry the levels of traffic it is now faced with carrying in its current construction of one lane in each direction, but it is also an extremely dangerous highway, and more dangerous for visitors who do not know it well.
Ultimately, Highway 247 should be developed into a four-lane highway, north from Yucca Valley to Landers, with additional passing lanes created past Landers, through Johnson Valley to Lucerne Valley. This project will result in significant increases in traffic, and will be joined by an increase in traffic to the areas served by Highway 247 in the hi-desert. Other developments are proposed for Landers and Pioneertown that will, if completed, result in additional significant increases in traffic entering onto the highway. Traffic concerns must be addressed with additional hospitality projects and residential and commercial development included.
CalTrans must conduct a thorough traffic study and provide input prior to this application moving forward, and the costs of the study need to be borne by the applicant. Knowing the highway, its traffic, and the propensity for drivers to illegally pass and drive at high rates of speed in that area (I personally, have been passed illegally on Highway 247 by dirt bikes, 18-wheelers, and an assortment of cars and trucks, all while driving at, or above, the posted speed limits), and the potential for off-road vehicles to enter the highway at various points in that area (see my comment about dirt bikes illegally passing me), I would strongly suggest dedicated turn lanes for this resort be mandated for both directions, not just for entry into the resort, but also the construction of lanes for accessing the highway from the resort. The main goal for any hospitality-related project needs to be the proper protection of guests, staff, and residents. If no turn lanes and access lanes are created for this project, it is my strong belief that serious accidents can and will result. Not addressing traffic safety at the beginning of this project constitutes negligence, and Highway 247 is already dangerous enough without creating an additional major safety hazard. Costs need to be borne by the applicant, and if the applicant is unwilling or unable to provide these safety provisions for their guests and locals, then their application must be denied.
The applicant notes that they are creating a 350-space parking area, so any attempt to downplay the amount of traffic that would be coming and going from this resort must be dismissed. This will constitute a major intersection. It may call for installation of additional traffic controls, including a dedicated traffic light for the intersection, in addition to the turn and access lanes. The applicant has proposed that the project be exempt from preparing a required traffic impact study. A full traffic impact study must be required for this project.
Economic development concerns
While this project can be an attractive addition to lodging facilities in the Joshua Tree National Park gateway communities, it also may not result in profits returning to those communities. Out-of-town owners may receive much of the economic benefit, with only low-paying service jobs being created locally. As that is likely, the project needs to not degrade the quality of life for local residents. With the resort being fairly self-contained with its own recreational facilities, dining, etc., the project's applicants should more fully detail what economic benefits our local communities will receive from the project's construction. If our benefits are to be increased traffic and more dangerous highways; low-paying jobs; increased fire hazards, noise, light pollution; reduced wildlife corridors and habitat; etc., then this project application should be denied. This project is billed as "high end" and "luxury." That means it is a project that would be out of reach economically for most of our hi-desert residents. Is that appropriate for this area?
This project application may be for an attractive and upscale resort facility, but it needs to also be reviewed as an enclave for the wealthy, which will not be accessible to local residents. It is important that in considering this project, the impacts and benefits to the local community must balance. Local residents must not be burdened with additional impacts while benefits accrue to out-of-town owners and investors. Promises of being a good neighbor are not enough. A plan must be included for how exactly this project will benefit the local communities and residents. It is also appropriate for San Bernardino County to craft a plan to return most of the TOT to the hi-desert.
This project should immediately remove all references to "teepees" and substitute "A-frame" or "chalet" as terms for their "teepee" accommodations. That reference is incorrect (they are not teepees), and are the cultural appropriation of Native American terminology in an inappropriate setting. In addition, Mojave Desert Native American tribes did not reside in teepees. It may be appropriate for the applicants to consult with Native American tribes of the region on how best to educate the project's clientele about the history and cultures of the tribes, and involve them with on-site programs if feasible.
It has become clear upon reviewing various projects for glamping resorts proposed for Flamingo Heights, Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and elsewhere, that the designers of these resorts obviously do not live in the desert. Unfortunately for them, and for us residents of the desert, many of those tasked with reviewing and approving these projects also do not live in the desert. This may result in some unforeseen (for them) consequences.
Glamping accommodations, by their very nature, are extremely vulnerable to the wind and sun. This particular project, sited on the immediate side of the Pipes Canyon Wash, is quite exposed to winds that can range up to hurricane force. This inevitability must be addressed, as the safety of guests and employees depends upon it. While the sun will degrade canvas and wood construction over time, the wind can destroy tentlike structures in seconds, and placing glamping tent structures on the edge of a large wash, may make them even more vulnerable to wind shear. One can imagine the utter displeasure of luxury glampers as their safari tent disintegrates about them and their belongings are scattered over the edge of the wash, and beyond.
It is easy for those unfamiliar with this area to discount this possibility, but then they do not have neighbors who have had a 2,500-gallon water storage tank blown four miles downwind, or a friend who lost half his home to a small tornado.
In addition, this resort has a number of large, communal fire pits planned. Any resident downwind for miles, might be justified in thinking this is a direct and present danger to their home. With strong winds being common, and devastating (see the summer of 2006 with the Sawtooth Complex Fire and several others that year, and since then, including the Lake Fire), open fires are an extreme danger to residents and wildlife. This has to be addressed in the strongest terms possible.
I watched in horror one evening as campers on the side of Mt. San Jacinto decided to build a small campfire during an evening with 45+ mph winds. In 20 minutes, the tiny flame in the distance had become an out-of-control wildfire that was burning a significant portion of the side of the mountain. By dawn, it was hundreds of acres in size and required millions of dollars of resources to control. We've seen fires get out of control, and residents are all too aware of the careless approach toward open fires by visitors at vacation rentals and campsites.
This project requires a mandatory fire control plan that addresses the prospect of fires built at the resort, and possibly out of control. Fire safety must be, like traffic safety, at the forefront of design and construction. No resident wants to lose their home because some wealthy out-of-town guest wanted to make s'mores during a raging windstorm.
Impacts on habitat and wildlife
The 2006 biological survey of the project area found the majority of threatened desert tortoise sign was found in the area of the project that will be developed. A total of 86% of the tortoises, 96% of the burrows, 95% of fresh scat and 98% of older scat, and 100% of tortoise tracks, were found in the area planned for development. The desert tortoise is not the only threatened species found on the site if that report is to be believed. However, a 2020 biological survey reported no tortoise occurrences on the site or adjacent to it (according to the 2020 report, nothing evidently lives on the site). This contradiction requires further investigation prior to approval. A significant number of special-status bird species were also identified on-site, which is home as well to migratory birds. As few Joshua trees should be removed or relocated as is possible. With glamping sites, one should be able to move them a few feet in any direction to avoid destroying Joshua trees. However, plans reveal many Joshua trees will be removed or destroyed if the resort is built according to plan. This is unacceptable.
In addition to the "protected" western Joshua tree, there are a number of other plant species that are supposedly protected by county ordinances, including creosote and yuccas that are hundreds of years old (and sometimes older). Those ordinances, however, are routinely ignored by Land Use Services, the Planning Commission, and the Board of Supervisors, when vetting projects for development, so they should not present an obstacle to development.
That said, there are a lot of us taxpaying county residents who would actually like county government to follow their own rules and regulations, and I would advocate for thorough protection of all supposedly protected species in any development of this property.
The land in question is an important part of a wildlife corridor linking mountain and desert habitats, and how the large portion of the Pipes Canyon Wash will be managed, is an important question. Will the resort's property in the wash be fenced? And if so, how? Fencing could be harmful in preventing wildlife usage of this corridor, however, fencing could be beneficial, if done properly. Appropriate fencing would stop off-roading use of the wash on this parcel, which, if wildlife could still migrate through the wash, would allow for wash habitat to be nearly devoid of vehicular traffic. That could be beneficial. However, locating hundreds of guests on the rim of the wash and setting up the wash property for guest use, would reverse any potential gains.
It is my understanding that the parcel is deemed a priority for conservation, and land trusts are open to purchasing the property for preservation. That option should be explored.
The parcel is zoned Rural Living. Residents along the Highway 247 corridor, and along both sides of the Pipes Canyon Wash, should all be notified of this project prior to closure of the public comment period. The county routinely only does the most minimal and legally required notifications for projects, which is grossly irresponsible to their mission, and to the county residents who fund their positions. This is an enormous problem as the rural areas of the county lack thorough media coverage and the means to properly inform the public of projects that will impact them. Any project with 350 parking spaces in this area will have significant impact on local residents and public comment periods should not be closed until they have the opportunity to properly review and comment upon project information. Design can mitigate much of the negative impacts, but the concerns of local residents must be included at the outset of the project, instead of after it is too late to address those concerns.
The parcel must be annexed into a water district to receive service. Does the Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency have appropriate supply to meet the demands of this resort without any possible impacts to existing customers?
There needs to be a hydrological study of the potential impact of the wastewater coming from approximately 300-400 guests and employees daily, upon the groundwater resources nearby, including residential wells. Without such a study, impacts will be realized after the fact. That is not acceptable.
This site should either be a glamping resort or an event site, not both. It is proposed as a glamping resort, but there is information that was produced noting the possibility of hosting large events on site as well. Hosting large events at this location would be a disaster and would create dangerous traffic situations on Highway 247, and would directly contradict the intention of Rural Living zoning designation. Any proposal for 90.5 acres of temporary parking and concerts with up to 25,000 guests, should be nixed immediately. Should they not be, I would recommend the developers be required to pay for expanding Highway 247 to four lanes plus appropriate turn on/off lanes, from the intersection with Route 62 to Landers, prior to approval. It sounds extreme, but if they want to profit by creating disasters for local residents, they need to mitigate for those disasters up front.
Noise and Light Pollution
Reviewing plan materials for this project, it appears the lighting has been designed by urban designers with a romantic notion of desert life. That's fun, to an extent, however, the potential for excessive light pollution is significant if not addressed at this stage of the process. Lights need to be focused downward, with caps on top, to prevent as much light pollution as is possible. This will benefit not only local residents, but guests as well, who will enjoy being able to see the desert night sky. String lights on 5 meter light posts should not be utilized except perhaps in an outdoor dining area.
Loud music and noise should be prevented or mitigated in keeping with the Rural Living zoning of this property and surrounding properties.
The use of non-native plants for the project should be discouraged. There is no need for a saguaro forest in the Mojave Desert. Saguaro do not natively grow here, and it would be obscene to allow the removal of native Mojave Desert plants while non-native plants are substituted to create an artificial landscape. I strongly recommend working with a native plant biologist like Robin Kobaly to craft a landscape utilizing the native desert plants on site and available. Either that, or plant a giant petunia forest to truly baffle guests. Why these folks need an agave farm, is mystifying, but after a few of the guests' children puncture themselves, they may have a change of heart.
Perhaps this, coupled with the recording studio, and the proposal for 90.5 acres of parking and the ability to host 25,000 people at periodic concerts, are all part of the allure of this luxury glamping resort. In any event, how can this helipad be designed to be as safe as possible in an area frequently subjected to high winds, dust devils, and severe heat? Is this necessary? Why is this necessary? Could there be potential safety risks from power lines?
Hi-desert residents who lived here in 1992, remember the Landers Earthquake quite well. Per the Fault Hazard Study conducted for the site, "surface fault rupture occurred within the western margin of the site along the trace of the Johnson Valley fault during the 1992 Landers earthquake. Evidence for the 1992 surface rupture was still apparent during the 2007 field investigation."
The report noted, "Primary faulting is indicated in only three of the ten trenches excavated and is shown with little apparent offset. This is somewhat troubling, especially consiering the suspected Pleistocene age of the lower sedimentary units exposed within the trenches and suggests that the materials were too massive to clearly reveal offsets and/or not old enough to reveal repeated displacements... For purposes of established building setbacks, Landmark has included fractures within the overall fault zone and has recommended a conservative 75 foot setback from the fracture zone. This results in a non-buildable zone that varies from approximately 100 to 400 feet in width along the western site boundary."
The potential for significant seismic activity should be included in review of any site plans for this project. With most disruption occurring along the western side of the parcel, potential exists for water and power service to the site to be disrupted, as well as access to and from the site to Highway 247.
While a survey found few Native American cultural resources on site, they did find a prehistoric campsite with broken arrowheads and a possible prehistoric rock alignment, along with a rhyolite scraper, multiple cutting tools, and a mano fragment. Construction on this site should require a Native American site monitor.
Please consider these to be my public comment on this project and include them in the appropriate record.
Thank you, Steve Brown
Director, Mojave Watch
Send comments (or requests for more info) to
909 387-4234 (voicemail lately is suggesting people call (951)925 8455)
Reference the below numbers in comments or correspondence:
Project # PROJ-2020-00191
Assessor Parcel Number (APN) 0629-181-01
Comment Deadline is April 26.
Relevant project documents:
(Thanks to Ben Loescher for retrieving these.)