Local News

Saturday, Nov 10 2012 08:00 PM

Hospital builds around holdout property owners

BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

In an ideal world, San Joaquin Community Hospital's new cancer center and medical complex would stretch two full blocks along the east side of Chester Avenue between 26th and 28th streets.

Problem is, Dave's Tacos and Valley Gun were there first.

The hospital tried to buy them out, as it did successfully with 11 other properties -- including a tow yard, a body shop and an adult bookstore -- in the two blocks directly across Chester Avenue from its existing medical center.

But so far, it's nothing doing.

Disappointed but not defeated, San Joaquin Community had to redesign the project's parking in a way that allows it to meet or exceed the city's parking requirements.

Hospital Vice President Jarrod McNaughton said the bigger impact has to do with the project's appearance.

"It would've been just nice for the aesthetics of the campus to not have those two buildings on the corners like that," he said, referring to the taco place at the northeast corner of Chester and 26th and the gun shop at the southeast corner of Chester and 28th. "But as you would have it, it is what it is."

Indeed, sometimes these things just happen, said city Planning Director Jim Eggert, who has reviewed the hospital's plans but has had no role in helping it assemble land for the project.

There was a time when cities took a more active role in helping developers buy land, even stepping in with redevelopment agency powers of eminent domain to condemn properties. Depending on where the real estate was located, they may have pitched in federal grant money to sweeten private developers' purchase offers.

Neither was an option in this case. The property doesn't qualify for what's known as a community development block grant, and Bakersfield's redevelopment agency has been dissolved, along with all others in the state.

"In this day and age it's just a private negotiation," Eggert said.

Holding tight

Valley Gun owner Ken Quarnberg said he's willing to sell -- but only at the right price. By that he means enough money to compensate for losing a prime location, the risk of relocating and the cost of advertising to let customers know he moved.

"I'm not willing to go broke just to get out of their way," he said, adding that the family-owned, second-generation business has operated at that location since 1971.

Dave's Tacos declined to comment.

The hospital project is no small affair. Near the south end of the combined property is a four-story, 60,000-square-foot cancer center and outpatient surgery center. Further north a three-story imaging center is planned.

Some 400 parking spaces that would have required demolition of the taco place and the gun shop are now expected to be located along 27th Street, which has been closed off and will remain so, the hospital's McNaughton said.

Other small buildings immediately east of Dave's Tacos are expected to remain, McNaughton said, as they were not considered vital to the project, especially after the other property owners declined to sell.

Notably, the hospital could have had more leverage if its new project had been an inpatient, acute care facility. Such projects are afforded special eminent domain power. But the cancer center is an outpatient center, and so it does not qualify for power of condemnation.

While McNaughton said the hospital has moved past its initial frustration, he himself appears to hold a bit of a grudge.

"You won't find me over at Dave's Tacos anytime soon, I'll tell you that," he said. "We really needed that piece of property."

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