A request for the City of Turlock to relinquish a portion of Cooper Avenue between Oak and Rose streets in order to allow Sacred Heart Church to consolidate two private school campuses has proven to be a source of frustration for a number of neighbors in the east Turlock area.
“The bottom line is that they want to keep kids safe, I get that, but they don’t need to close it down 24/7,” said Amy Boylan-Mendes, who has lived on Cooper Avenue for nearly 20 years. “That doesn’t have anything to do with keeping kids safe.”
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.
This will not be the first time that Sacred Heart Church has requested to abandon this portion of Cooper Avenue as 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 between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. The gates limit pedestrian access, parking and vehicular through traffic during the balance of the day and on weekends.
A community meeting was held by Sacred Heart Church to solicit input from the neighborhood regarding the proposed abandonment. The City of Turlock Engineering Division also notified all property owners within 500 feet of the proposed abandonment, as well as other members of the public that commented on the abandonment directly or attended the community meeting held by the Sacred Heart Church.
Neighbors such as Boylan-Mendes have voiced numerous concerns, including the loss of public street access, the blocking of free access to move within the neighborhood, additional traffic on Lyons and Cahill avenues due to diversion of traffic from Cooper Avenue, and lack of notification of street closures for church and school events.
“Not once in the time since I have resided on Cooper has the church notified the residents of Cooper that the street would be closed,” said Boylan-Mendes. “I realize that the city does not require the church or school to notify the residents impacted by the closure, but it would be considerate of the church and school to inform the residents when the closures happen so the residents can plan their day’s activities and travels around the street being unable to access.
“I’ve been stuck at my house and I’ve had to walk a block and a half with groceries because I didn’t realize they were closing,” added Boylan-Mendes.
Boylan-Mendes also recalled a time when she had to call 9-1-1 in response to a fire in her home’s air conditioning unit. Rather than watching the fire truck travel down Cooper Avenue, the street closure prompted the vehicle to take a left on Rose Street, then a right on Lyons Avenue, then another right on Oak Street and finally a left on Cooper Avenue at her home.
“What happens when it’s determined that loss of life or loss of property is due to delay of emergency response because that street is closed?” asked Boylan-Mendes.
The street abandonment request will go before the Turlock Planning Commission at their next meeting. 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 is not voting on whether or not to approve the abandonment request, however, the Planning Commission’s report to the City Council will be taken into consideration by council members in making their decision on whether or not to approve the abandonment request.
The Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway in the Yosemite Community Room.