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Friday, Jan 25 2013 11:00 PM

Finally, Baker Street gets some love

By The Bakersfield Californian

The Bakersfield City Council was right to side with city staff and Community Development Director Doug McIsaac in adopting a solution that should lead to the completion of a stalled housing project in Bakersfield's Old Town Kern section.

With deadlines looming that could hamper the city's ability to use federal funds and obtain tax credits to resume construction, the council decided against accepting a Bakersfield Planning Commission recommendation that council members feared would further delay the project.

Instead, they adopted McIsaac's recommendation that the city opt for a simple zone change that essentially authorizes things to move forward.

The project is a low-income housing development in an economically challenged section of east Bakersfield. The first phase, the Baker Street Village, is already complete, with 37 occupied units. The second phase, slated to be named Residences at Old Town Kern and located across the street from Baker Street Village, would add at least 40 additional one-, two- and three-bedroom rental units and a community center, according to the Kern County Housing Authority's website. That phase stalled several years ago.

In accepting McIsaac's recommendations, the City Council essentially sidesteps the Planning Commission, which otherwise would have had to evaluate development plans for the project's second phase.

The Kern County Housing Authority, the city's partner in this undertaking, already plans to build the project to meet city standards.

There is little question the project is needed in Old Town Kern, a historically important part of the community. The stylish Baker Street Village added an instant visual improvement to the neighborhood, and has been honored with a San Joaquin Valley Blueprint award and the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce's 2012 Beautiful Bakersfield Chairman's Award. Former city redevelopment chief Donna Kunz said the first phase filled within hours after it opened, so the need clearly exists.

In the wake of the disbanding of redevelopment agencies across California last year, municipalities are facing new challenges in finding ways to provide housing for low-income and economically distressed residents. It's a welcome sign that local and regional agencies are willing to work together to find solutions.

In giving up some control of the project to the county agency -- not always an easy thing for Bakersfield officials to do -- the city is doing a good thing for some of its citizens and a section of Bakersfield that has long been in need of a little help.

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