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Schaefer hearing set, battle lines drawn

April 23, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Planning Director Ricardo Hinojosa told the city Planning Commission on Monday that a coalition of Calexico landowners called the Schaefer Family Trust wants to build 457 homes east of the Wal-Mart on 155 acres of farmland without paying for an independent environmental impact review.

Here we go again.

"Following a tradition here," Hinojosa said, "(A representative of the trust) is saying he'll identify and mitigate all of the potential impacts."

Last year the Planning Commission heard a similar argument from representatives of the Bravo Partners and the Rodiles family.

Tom Du Bose, An El Centro planning consultant working for the partners, told the commission he could identify and plan for all environmental impacts associated with the partners' project so his clients wouldn't have to pay the $150,000 or so for a review and wait a year before developing their land while that review was conducted.

The Planning Commission rebuffed that idea, voting to force them to conduct a review.

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The partners appealed and the City Council overturned the Planning Commission, allowing the projects to move forward without significant cost to the partners and a long delay.

The City Council declared the projects qualified for a "mitigated negative declaration." In planning parlance that means the city determined all problems associated with the new developments — traffic, habitat for burrowing owls or birds, cost of providing city services and more — had been addressed.

Hinojosa said the Schaefer Family Trust wants similar considerations.

Commissioner Arturo Selwick said at the least he wants to see some sort of financial impact report on the Shaefer project before it is approved.

"We still don't know what the tax assessment district will be charging," he said.

When the City Council approved the Bravo Partners-Rodiles projects it required the establishment of a tax assessment district so costs for city services could be recouped from future homeowners.

Selwick said he hasn't seen the financial breakdown of how much money that district would bring in so he is unprepared to determine whether the new homes behind Wal-Mart and north of Cole Road would stress the city's ability to provide police and fire protection.

Selwick asked commission Chairman John Moreno to ask Public Works Director Mariano Martinez to attend the upcoming public hearing on the Schaefer project so Moreno could explain how the project would affect the city's water and wastewater capacity.

"He should be here," Hinojosa said.

Regarding the trust's request for similar considerations given to the Bravo Partners-Rodiles family, Commissioner Richard Romero said, "All projects are taken at face value. There is no precedent."

After the discussion, Moreno set the Schaefer public hearing for May 13. At that same meeting the commission will conduct another public hearing on a request from Calexican George Woo.

Woo wants to demolish an abandoned house and grocery store on his 832 E. 2nd St. property to construct a 14-unit two-story apartment complex.

Before the Woo family can do that the Planning Commission would have to grant it a "density bonus," according to Hinojosa. A city ordinance requires there be only nine units on the parcel size on which Woo hopes to build 14. To qualify for the bonus, Woo must prove he is offering something special with his apartment project.

In other business at Monday's meeting, the commission welcomed new city planner Mark Vasquez. Vasquez said he is a former Calipatria resident who attended the University of Southern California where he studied architecture.

Vasquez said he previously worked for "private developers here in the area" including "a company that was building the senior housing project on Highway 98 and Rancho Frontera."

The council then discussed the city's "granny flat" ordinance. Hinojosa and the commissioners brainstormed ideas that will be incorporated into various new versions of the ordinance. Once the commission votes on a new ordinance it will be sent to the City Council.

The commission could recommend that any "granny flat" — an independent unit on a property zoned for residential uses that features a kitchen and a bathroom — be occupied by a family member rent-free.

Commissioners are considering changing the ordinance because some Calexico landowners are converting garages by their homes or building additions to rent those units instead of providing that space for their relatives.

Moreno said not forcing inhabitants to rent the flats could help stop abuse of the ordinance.

"Don't charge granny," he said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or claverie7@hotmail.com

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