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Friday, March 15, 2019

By Chris Frost



Oxnard--- The Oxnard City Council upheld a special use permit and tentative tract map for the Heritage Homes development on Eighth Street and Palm Drive, March 5.


The project green lights low and attainably-priced homes into the city and helps with a housing shortage that Oxnard and other cities throughout California deal with currently. 


Planning Director Kathleen Mallory told the council the planning commission approved the special use permit and the density bonus permit on Dec. 20, 2018, and approved the tentative tract map.


Staff appealed the permit on Jan. 5, 2019, she said, which is required for all projects with multiple entitlement permits.


“This is to ensure there is an efficient, coordinated review when there are multiple entitlement permits, so you can see in a context where the subdivision parcel lines are and how that facilitates the special use permit and residential construction,” she said.


The action allows 13 single family homes, she said, and each unit will be 1,653 square feet with three bedrooms and two-car garages.


“The density bonus permit for which action was approved was for three concessions or incentives, which was for the frontage to be reduced, the lot size to be slightly reduced as well as the setback modification,” she said.


Additionally, she said the council has a memo that discloses three low-income units.


“That was an error in the planning commission resolution, but all the analysis is sufficient,” she said. 


Lots in the development will range from 4,574 square feet to 5,739 square feet, she said, within central Oxnard in the Wilson neighborhood and on the eastern boundary of the Fremont neighborhood.


“The general plan use on the property is residential low, a single-family planned use development, or R1PD,” she said. “It’s surrounded to the north with a duplex single-family environment, to the east is a convent facility, and single-family residences are southerly and westerly. There is a combination of single-family and two-family residences in this project site.”


“All the units will be three bedrooms, and it’s a combination of one-and-two story units,” she added. “That was working with the planning staff to make sure it was compatible with the neighborhood.”


Access to the neighborhood is above “H Street” that has parking, she said, and the alley with unique units that have garage doors on both sides.


“The project was designed to comply with all the parking standards, but this is a nice option, and the community seemed to support that, as well,” Mallory said. “There are front porches along H Street, as well as the driveways.”


The planning commission incorrectly identified two of the three low-income units as moderate-income units, she said, and the item before the council correctly identified them as three low-income units.


The revision for the three low-income units that are compliant with state law, in terms of the concessions, so this does not have any impact in terms of the commission’s approval,” she said.


Applicant Henry Casillas is a lifelong Oxnard resident and said he is proud of the project before the council.


“It’s an important project for the City of Oxnard and the downtown area,” he said. “It’s directly adjacent to the Henry T Oxnard Historic District, so we wanted to make sure that we honored that history. We’ve been working closely with the neighborhood council. Our first meeting was in May 2018, and I think we had an additional two consecutive meetings for a total of three meetings with them.”


Casillas took a step back and went into the Wilson neighborhood and took pictures of the craftsman-style homes.


“We used those homes to define our homes architecturally,” he said.  


Councilman Bert Perello said the council received a petition against the project with 45 signatures, and Mallory said none of the petition signers went to the planning commission meeting.


“There were no comments from the public, and the applicant had worked multiple times with the neighborhood to respond to questions and comments,” Mallory said. 


During public testimony, Gary Blum said Casillas had been proactively working with the neighborhood council, and members of the planning staff said there is no real requirement for developers to work with neighborhood councils, but the planning staff encourages such action.


“This developer came back three times to address any-and-all concerns and that varied from meeting-to-meeting, as some people showed up at one meeting and didn’t show up at the next,” he said. “That was over the course of an entire year.”


Pat Brown said the neighborhood renderings use some of the design features from the historical district.


“I think that’s rather nice to do that because it recognizes that our historic district has some importance,” she said. “They are in such a row, that even though they are not attached, it looks like they were.”


Council member Vianey Lopez said she appreciates all the community involvement in the development, but noted the petition signed by 45 people.


“It looks like it’s based on the aesthetics of the homes and it looks like they should be similar,” she said.


Perello asked if the project is first come, first serve.


“It’s inside information, and there have been times when inside information did not benefit the public,” he said. 


Councilman Bryan MacDonald said he knows many people who signed the petition against the project and cited the density bonus as the big problem. 


“An applicant for a density bonus may submit to a city, county or a city-and-county a proposal for specific incentives,” he said. “Later on, in that same section, it says a city or county or a city-and-county shall grant the concession. It’s a strong language for state law and limits our decision unless we can find four or five specific items that allow us to overrule the density bonus, but I do not see any of those items here.”


Councilwoman Gabriela Basua asked City Attorney Stephen Fischer about allowing Oxnard residents to have priority in the development, which is a private development.


“To my understanding, I don’t know of any requirements that allow us to do such a thing,” she said. “I know that if there are federal regulations and money, it’s a little bit different, but we are talking about private money. Can we have the developers who are coming into our city that have to use private money, can we make them sell to our residents?”

Fischer said previous projects where that is an element through the city or former community development agency funding the city had skin in the game and could dictate what type of term for the marketing and sales of those units.


“This is a private project through-and-through, and we are the regulating authority here,” City Manager Alex Nguyen said. “However, it doesn’t stop the developer from offering such a program. I spoke to Mr. Casillas and worked in other cities where the developer provided the initial six months to get on the waiting list was only open to residents of that city, but that would be done by choice. We cannot impose that.”


Councilman Oscar Madrigal said although the project is private, his heart is always in the City of Oxnard.


“Thank you for deciding to put something there,” he said. “It’s been an eyesore for years. And thank you for not putting in more apartments.”


Mayor Pro Tem Carmen Ramirez praised Casillas for getting a  consensus of opinion and said the development looks great.


“I think it would be great if Oxnard families could buy these properties,” she said. “We have to look more carefully for different housing opportunities.”


Mayor Tim Flynn recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest and lives in the neighborhood.