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Months of zoning ordinance discussion yields no change
Commission doesnt budge on recommendations to Council
cargo container pic

The City of Turlock repealed and replaced its Zoning Ordinance in April after four years and 18 public workshops, though a few loose ends are still being tied up.

When the Council approved the Ordinance in April it also pushed two items back to the Planning Commission for further examination. These items included elevating the permitting level for fast food dining options in the downtown from a staff level Minor Discretionary Permit to a Conditional Use Permit and requiring double striping in new parking lots. The Turlock City Council will receive a recommendation from the Planning Commission on these items in upcoming weeks, but it won’t be anything new as on Tuesday the Commission unanimously approved the same recommendations it put forth to the Council months ago.

Council member Steven Nascimento expressed interest in seeing the permitting change made after a McDonald’s restaurant was slated to be built at the corner of Marshall and South Center Streets, the site of the present Bonander Buick GMC car lot. Nascimento said that the project wasn’t well received by the community and the public should have more opportunity for public input for future projects similar in nature.

“I had some concerns about that project and its proximity to downtown and whether or not a drive-through was appropriate,” said Nascimento in April. “In other areas I think people expect to see a drive-through pop up so it’s probably less of an issue in other zones, but I think a project of this nature in the downtown needs more scrutiny.”

However, on Tuesday the Planning Commission unanimously denied making this change. Elevating the permit from an MDP to a CUP would not only require the involvement of the Planning Commission as well as more comprehensive public outreach, but it would cost the applicant an additional $1,500 according to an estimate by Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore.

“The public is still able to request a hearing before the Planning Commission with a Minor Discretionary Permit at no cost to the applicant, but it is not automatically needed like it would be with the Conditional Use Permit,” explained Whitmore.

Commissioner Jeff Hillberg opposed the idea of altering the permitting process since City staff offer members of the public a courtesy hearing before the planning commission at no cost when any concern or opposition is expressed.

“I’m reluctant to elevate it to something that causes additional fees and takes discretion from staff when they elevate it to us anyways if it is controversial,” said Hillberg Tuesday evening.

The idea of requiring double-striping in parking lots rather than making it a preferred option by the City also lacked support Tuesday evening. Nascimento proposed this amendment to mitigate the concern and damages caused for drivers when vehicles park adjacent to one another.  However, the Development Collaborative Committee convened on May 14 to discuss the issue and unanimously agreed to not make the recommendation after concerns were expressed that such a change would more than double the cost of striping parking lots. The Planning Commission also denied making this amendment.

Another element of the City’s rules that gained traction in April was the City’s approval of an amnesty program for cargo container permits, the ultimate aim of which is to create safe and secure containers on private property. While permits are not required for temporary use of containers, such as construction on a home for three months or less, a permit is required for those in use for a year or longer. 

In April Council Member Bill DeHart vocalized concerns that the term “amnesty” implies that those businesses or people with cargo containers have done something wrong. He instead proposed grandfathering in these businesses, like Seeger’s Printing, that has two containers stacked on each other that seamlessly blend in with their brick and mortar building.

“I really am concerned about this particular case,” said DeHart , who indicated to knowing the longstanding business intimately. “I think if people… looked they would see two light brown buildings and unless one knew that that was a storage container… one would never know unless they walked up to it and looked for confirmation.”

According to a City report, “The Planning Commission recommends that the City Council not adopt any additional ‘grandfathering’ provision for cargo container permits, having found that such a proposal would cause the City to be in violation with State Building and Fire Code requirements and that the reduced permitting fee approved in the adopted amnesty program provides sufficient relief from the planning permit costs that would otherwise been required.”

Essentialy, the City does not have the authority to grandfather in local longtime businesses said Whitmore.

“We don’t have the ability as a City not to comply with the building and fire codes that are state law.”