BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer email@example.com
Southwest Bakersfield residents who convinced the city Planning Commission in June to vote against a proposed condominium complex will continue their fight before the Kern County Board of Supervisors and Bakersfield City Council this week.
The condominiums proposed by Black Ops Real Estate IV LLC for a 10.2-acre parcel at Ming Avenue and River Run Boulevard would require a zone change and an amendment to the Kern River Plan Element.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider making an advisory recommendation on the River Plan amendment to the city of Bakersfield.
Then on Wednesday, the Bakersfield City Council will hear an appeal of the project by McIntosh & Associates, which represents Black Ops. More than 50 residents convinced the Bakersfield Planning Commission to deny the zoning change and River Plan amendment at its June 6 meeting.
City staff is recommending the City Council uphold the Planning Commission’s decision Wednesday, and vote to deny the zoning change and amendment to the Kern River Plan Element.
The Panama-Buena Vista Union School District originally planned to build a school on the land, but instead sold it to Black Ops. The developer first proposed an apartment building there, before changing its proposal to 100 condos.
"It's a great project," Roger McIntosh of McIntosh & Associates said of the development, which features stucco exteriors, arched doorways, Spanish tile roofs, and kitchens with Viking stoves and granite countertops.
"It's a Planned Unit Development plan, and once that PUD plan is approved, that's all that can ever be built there," McIntosh said, adding that if the council approves the project later this summer, a groundbreaking could happen by December.
Bakersfield Planning Director Jim Eggert said the zone change would guarantee that city officials would vote again on any changes proposed during construction.
"For the neighborhood, it brings a certainty that this is what's going to be built, and if there's something else that comes up, it has to go back to the Planning Commission," Eggert said.
The land, which is in the residential development of River Oaks, is bordered by the Seven Oaks at Grand Island tract, immediately south; and Seven Oaks, farther east, across Buena Vista Road.
All are areas of single-family homes, and one of residents' biggest objections is its makeup, of condominiums.
"Our neighbors feel very strongly this shouldn't be the type of development that should be in this neighborhood," said Amy Johnson Barks, who has helped coordinate opposition. "We intend to fight this all the way, and if it means litigation, we're prepared to go that route as well."
Neighbors told the Planning Commission on June 6 that they believe traffic counts cited in the staff report are incorrect; that the condos will not have enough parking; that they believe the units ultimately will be occupied by renters; and that the complex's one entrance and exit, on River Run Boulevard, is inadequate and has bad sightlines for motorists.
"McIntosh and Associates is the traffic engineer, and he prepared the traffic study," Bakersfield Principal Planner Martin Ortiz said after the Planning Commission meeting, adding that the analysis actually showed that multiple-family developments such as this one generate fewer vehicle trips than single-family homes. Eggert agreed.
"A single family home is considered to have 10 daily trips, 10 vehicle trips per day. A multi-unit development may have trips that are consolidated," Eggert said, referencing gardeners and delivery vehicles that may visit multiple units at one time.
"The other thing, too, with projects like this is they tend to have less children." The developer said the project's single entrypoint is sufficient for motorists.
" ... the curve is fine. It was built per city standards. You just set back the walls, and the speed limit is 45 out there," McIntosh said.
On the issue of parking, McIntosh said: "We're overparked by about 40 units. (Municipal) code requires only 220 (spaces). We have two-car garages for every unit -- that's 200 cars -- and then we have another 60 spaces."
Residents also have challenged the project on an environmental basis, pointing out that its proximity to the Kern River will necessitate a change in the Kern River Plan Element, a planning program for river areas that the city and county adopted jointly.
"It affects, No. 1, open space and No. 2, some of the recreation, because it's going to make it harder for people to get in there to do recreation because of the traffic. And, No. 3, it affects the urban wildlife corridor," said resident Michael Fitzgerald, who has spent considerable time documenting the endangered San Joaquin kit foxes that nest on the site.
"We did enough digging to find that there's confirmed wildlife crossings there," Fitzgerald said. "Either case, 100-unit condominium complex, or 200-unit apartment complex, would dramatically reduce or eliminate an urban wildlife corridor."
"I would say it's probably being mislabeled," Eggert said. "Almost every canal in the city could be argued as a wildlife corridor." If the City Council approves the project, Eggert said the amendment to the Kern River Plan Element would be confined to changing the land's zone in the Plan.
WHAT DECIDERS THINK
The proposed development is in 4th District Supervisor David Couch's area. Couch did not respond to requests for comment.
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt declined to comment on the issue, but said her department's recommendation to supervisors on the Kern River Plan Element is the same as it was June 18, when the board first discussed making an advisory recommendation.
"There's no change in my recommendation, which is neutrality. It's completely within the city of Bakersfield's jurisdiction. ... my recommendation (to the supervisors) is no recommendation (to the city)." Oviatt said, noting that a supervisors' recommendation to the city would be "non-binding" anyway.
Reactions among Bakersfield City Council members have been relatively muted, with some pointing out that they have not heard testimony from either side.
"No opinion at this point. Still listening," said Ward 4 Councilman Bob Smith, whose area would include the proposed development. Smith did say he thinks the issue of wildlife preservation has been addressed.
"I think the city has a habitat conservation plan that covers that," Smith said. "I don't see that as much of a concern. ... the decision, as I see it, is, is the project compatible with the neighborhood?"
Like several other council members, Ward 6 Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan met with McIntosh. Sullivan's opinion of the project he represents changed afterward.
"We represent our constituents and we're supposed to listen. How could we go against that?" Sullivan said June 17, of the overwhelming testimony against the project at the June 6 Planning Commission meeting.
"Do we do it because we know Roger Macintosh?" asked Sullivan, pointing out that she does know McIntosh. "Of course not."
On June 24, after meeting with McIntosh, Sullivan said: "I think the Planning Commission should have approved that (zoning change). Rather than listening to the opposition, it was their goal to really look at the design of the project itself. They kind of got off-track. There's nothing wrong with that project, other than it's not a school."
Ward 5 Councilman Harold Hanson said he has met with representatives of both sides.
" ... you have people, you have kit foxes. You've got all kinds of arguments on this thing. It's pretty interesting. That's why it's good for me to meet with all the different sides," said Hanson, whose district begins on the south side of Ming Avenue, across the street from the development.
"You get all the facts, and then you vote which way is the right way to vote. With me, personally, it usually comes out at the hearing, it will get pretty definitive."
Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson agreed.
"As I weigh all these factors, I'll make my decision," Johnson said. "When it comes down to it, (when) you're there at the hearing, someone could come up with a really great idea and solve it."
For some residents, however, the best solution would be to keep the existing zoning, which would allow another development of single-family homes, but not the condominiums.
"They're trying to put the burden of adjustment on us. Hey, we bought our homes with the zoning the way it was," said resident Cindy Keene, who plans to attend both meetings next week with her husband, Tom. "You have to draw the line and say, 'This project might be a delightful project, but maybe do it over here.' "