The Turlock City Council voted on Tuesday to abandon the part of Cooper Avenue that runs through Sacred Heart Church's campus, but only after the church makes a number of safety and accessibility improvements to the area around Cooper.
The street abandonment comes despite a number of concerns from the church's neighbors. The main concerns voiced by neighbors include: the loss of public street access for a private purpose, the blocking of free access to move within the neighborhood, increased response times for emergency vehicles, additional traffic on surrounding streets and potential for traffic back-ups with parents dropping off students attending Sacred Heart schools.
In April, the City Council decided to hold off on abandoning the section of Cooper Avenue so that the City could facilitate a discussion between the church and its neighbors. On May 26, City Manager Gary Hampton and Director of Development Services Mike Pitcock convened a meeting with Sacred Heart administration and neighborhood representatives. According to Pitcock, the two groups could not come to a consensus.
Cooper Avenue resident Amy Boylan-Mendes said the City misrepresented the purpose of the May 26 meeting.
"The meeting wasn't about compromise, it was about what can we do as a church to make it okay for us to close your street...This isn't about safety of the kids, this is about a land grab by the Catholic church," said Boylan-Mendes at Tuesday's Council meeting.
Another neighbor of the church, Mike Ducey, voiced opposition to the abandonment and disagreed with City police and fire reports that the permanent closure of Cooper wouldn't affect public safety response times.
"Many of my neighbors and myself feel like we're being overrun by the actions of outsiders and people who do not live in the neighborhood," said Ducey. "Various City departments have concluded that the closure would have very little effect on Cooper. I would disagree with this conclusion. Their studies were probably made between the hours of 8 to 5 and Monday through Friday. If the City employees took a look at the area after 6 p.m. it would be a different game."
Not all neighbors voiced opposition to the abandonment. Cooper Avenue resident Samuel Sharp told the Council on Tuesday that he just wanted the church to address the various safety issues around the area.
"I do not currently oppose the proposed change, but it cannot occur without a written plan to address lighting, sidewalks, ADA curb ramps and pedestrian crossings. I have observed parishioners walk on my property to avoid vehicles during night events or times of heavy traffic. The westside of my property has no sidewalks and my lawn is used to reach the pedestrian crossing at Oak and Cooper. As a property owner, should an injury occur of a parishioner or a person attending a church function, I could face a civil action," said Sharp.
The Council's unanimous decision on Tuesday requires the church to make a number of safety improvements before being allowed to permanently close the street and then an additional number of accessibility improvements before the City would officially abandon the roadway. The total number of improvements required are fewer than recommended by City staff, but still represent a significant financial obligation on part of the church.
Attorney Mike Warda, speaking on behalf of Sacred Heart Church, requested the Council eliminate most of the accessibility improvements, and approve the abandonment without the permanent closure and conditions first.
"I ask that you treat this as you would any other project," said Warda on Tuesday.
The Council members, however, discussed the merits of each recommended improvement before approving the closure and then abandonment of Cooper — once the conditions are met.
"I think the distinction between this project and a typical project is that the City is basically abandoning a road section, giving a piece of land to the applicant, and I think we're willing to do that but there are neighborhood impacts to resolve from that abandonment and we're trying to address those," said Council member Steven Nascimento.