The Hanford city council has once again at its June 17 meeting voted to restrict many potential uses west of downtown in order to protect downtown businesses.
Since Hanford Mall at 12th and Lacey was developed more than 20 years ago, the city has used zoning to exclude medical and professional offices, optometrists, and large furniture stores in the 12th and Lacey area.
The Regional Commercial Zone (RCZ) is bounded by 12th Avenue and Lacey Boulevard and Highways 198 and 43.
The idea was that by limiting these uses near the mall, it would protect those same businesses downtown.
The council voted 3-1, with Councilmember Martin Devine voting no, to allow a few new uses in the RCZ at 12th and Lacy but not all the ones sought by a Fresno developer, John Kashian.
Kashian of 198-43 LLC, the developer of the Costco Center at highways 198 and 43, said the reason why he supported the change in zoning around the mall is that “…since 2015 the retail environment has changed.” The Costco Center is here to make Hanford better, he said. He also said he wanted downtown to survive.
Many uses approved by the Hanford Planning Commission in a 6-1 vote on May 14 were denied by the council. The planning commission, following a staff recommendation, wanted to allow offices of 2000-6000 square-feet, medical, dental and optometry offices, large furniture stores and other uses.
During the planning commission meeting, Joe Serrano of Serrano’s Furniture, at 104 N. Douty St. in downtown Hanford, said he wanted the zoning change because his business is growing and he needs more room. He said if his downtown location were larger, he would remain downtown.
The council agreed only to allow exercise and dance studios, business support services and large health and fitness facilities after downtown businesses opposed the planning commission’s changes.
Not permitted in the RCZ were optometrists, furniture stores of more than 20,000 square-feet, landscaping/nursery businesses, second bank branches, payday lenders/check cashing stores, government offices and tailoring and clothing alteration businesses.
Downtown business interests staunchly opposed any zoning change.
Downtown optometrist Jeffrey Garcia said the current zoning “… has everything to do with survival.”
Former Councilmember Diane Sharp, who owns a substantial amount of downtown property, said, “if approved downtown (would) suffer vacancies and blight.”
Michelle Brown of Main Street Hanford, which supports downtown business through various activities, was also opposed to the change. “The change,” she said, “could wipe out optometry in Hanford.”
Optometrist Michael Mayer said, “Costco is not making enough money, so it wants to change the rules.”
Ex-councilman Dan Chin, also a downtown property owner, said an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required on the change under the California Environmental Quality Act. The city has “one lawsuit in front of you (Helena Chemical). You don’t need another one,” Chin said. Chin was on the Hanford Planning Commission when the current zoning rules limiting uses west of downtown were developed.
The acting city attorney disagreed with Chin’s analysis that an EIR was required.
And during the discussion Community Development Director Darlene Matta indicated that the California Environment Quality Act is not relevant when there is no physical project to evaluate.
Craig Johnson, owner of Salmon’s Furniture downtown, also opposed the changes. He said the zoning rules are “imperative for the city to survive.”
Mayor Sue Sorensen, who has an ownership in interest in the Laundry Building on West 7th Street, excused herself from the discussion and voting pending a legal ruling by the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
City Attorney Ty Mizote also excused himself because he owns downtown property.
Councilmember Francisco Ramirez favored expanding the RCZ and wanted all the changes approved by the planning commission. But he feared the vote would be 2-2 for the zoning changes and the motion would die. To make the few zoning changes possible he compromised and the limited changes passed.
“Why would we limit ourselves if we have the opportunity to grow?” asked Ramirez. “There has to be a level playing field,” Ramirez said, “where Hanford can grow economically.” And he vowed not to run again if there was no economic growth in Hanford.
Councilmember Art Brieno explained the reasons for his vote to expand some uses and not others. “I want to get a better grasp of how downtown will develop—how it’s (expanding uses in the Regional Commercial Zone) going to impact. I need more information.” He said he would like to have a study on the matter.
Devine opposed Kashian’s request and said the current zoning works.
Councilmember John Draxler also sided with Ramirez. Referring to a study of people from Hanford buying out of town, he said Hanford loses more than it gains by current zoning which protects downtown.
“How about more competition somewhere else,” Draxler said. “Lower prices gives more opportunity to people?”