Controversial Apartment Complex Approved in Visalia

City of Visalia officials took a step closer in solving the city’s housing shortage.

On Monday, October 16, the Visalia City Council voted 4-1 to approve an up-scale, gated, apartment complex on the corner of Shirk Road and Doe Avenue.

Mayor Warren Gubler was the only dissenting vote, saying that the project was premature. Citing traffic problems on Shirk Road, Gubler felt that the area’s infrastructure wasn’t quite ready to handle a 200-unit complex.

The neighborhood is primarily residential and the home owners came out en masse to the public hearing to oppose the apartment complex. Because of the volume of people who attended the Planning Commission meetings the public hearing was held at the Convention Center.

The developer, Pacific Rim Companies, hopes to build 88 one bedroom and 122 two bedroom units on a 17.4 acre parcel that is now vacant. The apartment complex will have a pool, community building and a seven foot privacy wall.

One bedroom units are projected to rent for $1200 a month and the two bedroom units at $1400. There will also be 433 parking spaces.

On April 24 the Visalia City Planning Commission held a public hearing with a packed house to discuss
approving a conditional use permit (CUP). At that time the Planning Commission decided to do a noise study and put their final decision off until the developer made some concessions and the study was completed.

At the August 28 meeting the commission voted unanimously, with one recusal, to approve the project.

Residents in the neighborhood have organized against the development and presented a petition to the Visalia City Council with 1,141 signatures. The neighborhood is in the Hurley School District and bound by Ferguson Avenue and Roeben Street. A few businesses in the area to the west also oppose the complex.

The residents’ main grievances were impacted schools, traffic, crime, privacy, and the value of their homes going down. They felt that neighborhood commercial such as restaurants or gas stations would better serve the community.

Residents who spoke during the public hearing said that overcrowding at schools has forced their children to change schools year after year. They also predicted that the apartments would increase the crime rate and the value of their homes would decrease.

Speakers also objected to having second story apartments looking down at their children playing in their yards.

Their biggest complaint was that the zoning next to their houses was changed from service commercial to multi-family residential without going through the normal notification process. Rochelle Nelson, who filed the appeal, said that people bought homes in the neighborhood completely unaware that the zoning had been changed.

“Home owners tried to do their due diligence but they were given inaccurate information,” said her husband, Scott Nelson.

Jacob Kitson said he went to the city and looked up the zoning before he and his wife purchased their home and saw that it was zoned service commercial. He said that he and his wife would have never bought their house if they had known an apartment complex was going to be built right behind it.

“How is a citizen supposed to make a decision if the planning department does not give out the correct information?” He asked that the city council change the zoning back to service commercial or low density residential.

All sides agreed about the traffic problem. Right now there is a bottleneck at Shirk and Doe that is only going to get worse. Shirk was described as a two lane country road with no curbs or gutters in some areas and prone to flooding. Improvements to Shirk are not planned until 2021 – 2022.

During the public hearing 16 residents spoke against the project and one young professional spoke in favor. He cited the severe lack of transitional housing for emerging entrepreneurs like himself who have returned to live in Visalia.

After the public hearing was closed Councilmember Steve Nelsen wanted to clear up the miscommunication in terms of the zoning. He said that a city council usually takes three years to update the General Plan. The next step is to make the updated zones adhere to the new general plan. Nelsen said that the city council started the process in January of this year and adopted the new zoning plan in March.

“That’s how the system works,” he said.

Nelsen also said it was hard for him to believe that a home buyer would prefer a tire repair shop right behind their house than an apartment complex. He added that service commercial is not held to the same standards as apartments in terms of setbacks, sound barriers and privacy walls.

The developer voluntarily adopted a 35-foot setback from the privacy wall and a 175-foot setback from the carport.

Nelsen said if we say no to this project then future developers will not know what to expect from our council.

“Our decision tonight will set the standard.”

Councilmember Greg Collins agreed with Nelsen and said that he has been involved with about 90% of the apartment development in the city. He said that the same concerns were raised before but rarely come to fruition.

“I’ve never heard someone say that their home price went down because they were next to an apartment building. I don’t think the neighborhood will be adversely affected.”

He also voiced his skepticism that a home owner would want to live next to an auto body shop, which is what is compatible with service commercial zoning. Collins said that if the 17-acre parcel reverted to service commercial it would have three times the traffic than would apartments.

Councilmember Phil Cox said that they were making a legal decision tonight and that he supported the complex. He commented on the beautiful neighborhood and the 20 to 30 new homes being built and that, “this new project will not affect that at all. It will add to it,” he said.

Vice-Mayor Bob Link said that 65 to 70 people were involved in updating the General Plan and that leaving this parcel as service commercial in the middle of a residential neighborhood did not make sense. He also voiced his disbelief that anyone would want to live next door to service commercial.

Link added that the apartments will attract developers to the neighborhood to build restaurants and gas stations because the apartments will bring in more customers.

Mike Lane from the Building Industry Association said that Pacific Rim Companies worked for two years on this project, played by the rules and did everything that the city asked for.

‘There are at least 200 people you are not going to hear from tonight because they don’t know about it. But they need it.”

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