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Planning approves fun center

Neighbors voice concerns about noise, zoning issues

POSTED November 5, 2010 11:59 p.m.

After a marathon three and a half hour meeting Thursday night, the Turlock Planning Commission recommended approving plans for the Ten Pin Fun Center, a proposed family entertainment center containing a 34-lane bowling alley.

The 51,828 sq. ft. development, planned for an “L”-shaped patch of vacant land behind the Rite Aid shopping center at the corner of Crowell Road and Monte Vista Avenue, will include a multi-level laser tag arena, an arcade, six banquet rooms for parties, two bocce ball courts, and a sports bar and grill with a two-story Jumbotron and patio seating in addition to bowling.

“People think of bowling alleys as smoke filled, dirty, drinking places. All that has changed with the advent of family entertainment,” said Phil Fitzgerald, architect with Fitzgerald Associates Architects which specializes in such developments and designed the Ten Pin Fun Center.

The project – in concept –garnered support from all 18 speakers at the Planning Commission meeting.

Turlocker David Halsey said his family was very excited about the proposed entertainment center. “You would have thought the Giants had just won the World Series,” he said about the reaction in his household.

“Believe me, it’s not that good,” replied Planning Commission Chairman Mike Brem.

“It’s better than the Giants,” said Turlocker Bill Simpson, “because the next year you may not have it (the World Series), but next year you’re going to have this.”

Parents and children alike took to the podium to praise the concept.  The project will solve the age old problem of a boring Turlock, said speaker Elizabeth Sommerville.

“I’m all for this,” Sommerville said. “I am 13 and me and my friends were like, ‘What should we do,’ but there’s really nothing here in Turlock.”

“Even the most unbiased Turlock citizens, members of my bowing team, are looking forward to bowling here locally,” said Turlocker Peter Hooks.

But despite the widespread support for the project, the proposed location – in land currently zoned high density residential, abutting residential neighborhoods – drew the ire of many nearby residents.

“An entertainment center of this magnitude will completely change the residential character of this neighborhood,” said Jay Sharping, who lives just a few blocks away from the proposed development. “Completely.”

Myra DiMartini, who lives less than a half mile from the development, attended the meeting via phone to voice her concerns. DiMartini suffers from a serious ear problem, she said, and the already “troubled,” noisy neighborhood causes her significant health problems. The addition of a potentially noisy family fun center could cause further problems, she said.“I’ve lost my health because of this,” DiMartini said. “I don’t deserve this. I deserve some rest.”

Turlock Police Sgt. Nino Amirfar provided information to the Planning Commission on the nature of crimes in the neighborhood, which he said is currently below the citywide average. The immediate area reported just six serious crimes in 2009, 45 percent lower than the city average. A larger area, stretching out about a half-mile in each direction, reported nine calls for disturbances – such as noise, parties, and even domestic disturbances and suspicious persons – in 2009, and seven in 2010.

Even with the statistics, research performed by the applicant showing the development will not impact traffic, noise, or parking more than allowed by Turlock’s General Plan, and the developer’s offer to hire a “noise coordinator” to address any complaints, Planning Commissioners still had issues with the project.

In making the required findings for the project, commissioners were required to weigh numerous issues, including whether the development fit with the General Plan and whether rezoning the parcel from residential to community commercial – required for the project to proceed – was necessary given a lack of available commercial space.

“There’s no dispute that the understanding the neighbors had in the way it was zoned was that it would be residential housing,” Commissioner Soraya Fregosi said. “I’m not totally convinced that this is the only and best location, even with the others that were looked at.”

Developers said they had investigated parcels along Golden State Boulevard, at the old Turlock Auto Plaza, in Monte Vista Crossing, and at the old Mervyn’s building on Geer Road, but that none were suitable for the development in terms of size or preexisting conditions. The Mervyn’s, for example, was not for sale, and also features numerous columns which would have made placing bowling lanes difficult.

The rezone created other problems as well including removing 141 low-income housing units from the city’s Housing Element. That change could be mitigated, as the city has 274 excess units in the current housing plan.

A potentially more serious problem could arise if the Ten Pin Fun Center isn’t constructed. The land would still be rezoned to community commercial, opening the door to hotels, grocery stores, and retail shops. A 10-year limit on the planned development ensures that such uses couldn’t be developed until a decade after the Ten Pin Fun Center falls through.

Despite the concerns, Brem voiced the argument that the residential zoning was unlikely to ever be utilized on that parcel. The piece of property has had six different housing projects proposed since 1970 – ranging from a three story, 500 apartment complex to a gated very low income and an off campus dormitory for California State University, Stanislaus – and none have been built.

“It doesn’t exist,” Brem said. “It hasn’t existed. I don’t think it’s ever going to exist here.”

Brem also said he believed the Ten Pin Fun Center would actually have a better impact on the neighborhood than a large residential development. When an audience member asked who would prefer to see a 500 unit apartment complex as a neighbor, a show of hands was non-existent.

And neighbors didn’t endorse those residential developments at the time, either, Brem said.

“The majority of those neighbors didn’t want anything that was proposed there,” Brem said. “… That’s not what we’re here for. Something’s going to go there.”

The Planning Commission did, however, add several conditions to the project to ensure it is a good neighbor to nearby residences.

To reduce noise, proposed operating hours of 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Thursday were revised to an earlier, 1 a.m. closing. On Fridays and Saturdays, the Ten Pin Fun Center will be open from 9 a.m. until 2:30 a.m., rather than a proposed 24-hour schedule.

The outdoor bocce ball courts will close at 10 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday, and at 12 midnight on Friday and Saturday. After six months in operation, the developers will be able to return to the Planning Commission to potentially revise those hours later, depending on community input.

The commission also barred construction on Sundays and allowed 24-hour “lock-in” parties only with seven-day advance notice provided to the Turlock Police Department.

To ensure the building’s design meets the neighborhood’s standards, the Planning Commission will approve all paint samples and building materials prior to construction – including controversial neon green color used on the building exterior .The building will also feature shorter, more compact signs than initially proposed.

The commission approved the project with a 5-2 vote given the addition of those conditions, with commissioners Fregosi and Jeanine Bean dissenting.

Ten Pin Fun Center developer Jim Theis agreed to the changes, stating his goal to make the neighbors happy.

“We live here, so we have a vested interest to make things right,” he said.

The project still faces final approval by the Turlock City Council before construction can begin, currently slated for a December meeting. As of now, construction is set to begin in spring and finish in September or October 2011.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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