The Turlock City Council decided to hold off on abandoning the section of Cooper Avenue that sits between two Sacred Heart school campuses so that the City could facilitate a discussion between the church and its neighbors and try to come to a compromise that both parties could live with.
"It's my understanding that there's still some work that needs to be done," said Vice Mayor Bublak before putting forward the motion to postpone the public hearing on the street abandonment.
City Manager Gary Hampton said he agreed with the members of the City leadership team who brought forward that certain public improvements needed to be constructed before the roadway is vacated to address safety improvements for fire access, traffic control and pedestrian accessibility.
Sacred Heart has been trying to get the City to abandon the street for decades. A similar petition was denied by the City Council in 1983, after council members received a significant amount of opposition from the neighbors in the area at the time.
Although Sacred Heart Church was previously unsuccessful in abandoning the street that separates their two campuses, the City of Turlock approved a Minor Discretionary Permit in 2001 to allow the church to install a seven foot cyclone fence and gates to enclose Cooper Avenue between Oak and Rose streets. As a result, the gated area is closed to through traffic during school hours and special events. The gates limit pedestrian access, parking and vehicular through traffic during the balance of the day and on weekends.
To Sacred Heart Principal Linda Murphy-Lopes, the main reason for requesting the abandonment is safety for the students and the growing number of congregation members.
"The fact that we have more parishioners, why is that bad?" asked Murphy-Lopes at Tuesday's Council meeting.
For residents of Cooper Avenue and the surrounding streets, however, the abandonment would create a host of new problems.
Mike Ducey, who has lived on Cooper Avenue most of his life, said that eliminating parking on Cooper will make residents and church goers have to park on nearby streets, like Cahill, which is about 9 feet narrower than Cooper and lacking sidewalks.
"You would be creating a traffic hazard for the children," said Ducey.
Amy Boylan-Mendes said that when her house caught on fire during school hours when the street was closed in 2001, she saw the fire engine start down Cooper, then have to turn onto Lyons and back onto Cooper to get to her house.
"My biggest concern I had 10 years ago when I brought this to the council was emergency response...How much is my life and my property and my neighbors' lives and their property worth to Sacred Heart and now I say to the City," said Boylan-Mendes.
Another issue neighbors had with the church was their lack of communication when Sacred Heart closed the street for special events at night and on weekends.
"We found Sacred Heart not to be good neighbors and this is only going to make it worse," said longtime Cahill resident Kathryn Herriott.
"The safety of the children is not first and foremost, it's who's right and who's wrong," continued Herriott.
Ducey pointed to recent Sacred Heart School signs that were posted around the neighborhood promoting their three "R's" — Religion, Responsibility, Respect.
"They should start showing us some respect in the neighborhood," he said.
Rusty Baez of the Sacred Heart Advisory Council said that the church has given "sound arguments" for the abandonment of the street.
"I feel we've shown we are willing to work with the neighbors and City staff," said Baez.
Sacred Heart will get a chance to show they are good neighbors as Mayor Gary Soiseth asked representatives of the church and local neighbors to meet with City staff and discuss the issues.
The Mayor requested that the City Engineering department look into possible traffic hazards on Cahill and surrounding intersections, and asked the City's police and fire departments to bring back to the City Council a definitive answer on if the street abandonment would affect emergency response to Cooper Avenue homes.
"This provides us the opportunity...to sit and listen to each other and see what their concerns are," said Councilman Bill DeHart.