A proposal filed by Sacred Heart Church to abandon Cooper Avenue between Oak and Rose streets was met with conflicting opinions among the Turlock Planning Commission, who disagreed on whether or not the petition conformed to the Turlock General Plan.
“Because we are looking at a church within an old neighborhood, it seems that the City really played a balancing act in 2001 by granting that Minor Discretionary Permit to accommodate as much to the safety factor as possible for students and to minimize traffic and so forth,” said Commission Chair Soraya Fregosi in reference to an MDP that allowed Sacred Heart Church to close Cooper Avenue between 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays.
“If this street were to be abandoned then the scale would tip 100 percent to the school and to the sacrifice of the immediate neighborhood. In my mind that is not what the General Plan really calls us to do,” continued Fregosi
Prior to arriving at a 3-3 vote, the Commission took into consideration four General Plan policies: continue gridded street network, fine grained road network, design for public safety, and preservation of existing neighborhoods. While Commissioner Nick Hackler felt that the request conformed to the first three policies, he voiced his concerns regarding preserving the existing neighborhood.
“I think we need some more information and some more details as to how we are going to preserve the neighborhood as is. That would be a major change to the neighborhood,” said Hackler. “Coming forward from Sacred Heart saying that they might put a parking lot, might do this, might do that—that’s a big change to the neighborhood and we can’t guarantee we’re going to preserve the existing neighborhood flow without some sort of a better plan coming forward first.
“We’re shooting in the dark here, so I don’t feel very comfortable with this,” continued Hackler.
Hackler’s discomfort was not only echoed by some commissioners, but by Turlock resident Nick Ducey, who said he has lived on the corner of Cahill Avenue and Oak Street for “way too long.”
“I can give credit to the Sacred Heart School for trying to increase the safety of their children, but over the years they’ve asked more and more of us to put up with their loud music and the traffic for their festivals and religious events,” said Ducey. “Sacred Heart has seemed to forget that they are guests in this neighborhood. Take into consideration the neighborhood.”
While Ducey took to the podium to voice his strong opposition to the proposal, Linda Murphy-Lopes, who will assume the position as principal at Sacred Heart on Monday, said that she has witnessed first-hand the need for increased security at the school site.
“I will tell you that we have issues with homeless that are daily. I work in the office two days a week and I am telling you that I am chasing people off on a regular basis,” said Murphy-Lopes. “We’re trying to keep the kids safe there. They are our kids and they are our safety issues. I don’t know what some people see or don’t see, but I know that on a weekly basis, we see it. We deal with it.”
The abandonment process is managed by the Turlock Engineering Division and requires approval by the Turlock City Council. If passed, the abandonment will allow the church to unify Sacred Heart Elementary School and Sacred Heart Catholic Pre-School to improve student safety and reduce foot traffic through the area that lies between the two campuses.
The City Engineer has determined that the potential impact on traffic, circulation and emergency vehicle response is minimal. The proposed abandonment appears to create a superblock that is more typical in newer parts of town and is not encouraged in downtown Turlock which serves as a neighborhood center.
The Planning Commission did not vote on Thursday as to whether or not to approve the abandonment request. Their comments will instead be taken into consideration by City Councilmembers, who will make the ultimate decision on the proposal. The City Council meeting is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 9.