Planning Commission split vote rejects Twain Harte’s apartment proposal | News

Amid an ongoing housing crisis in Tuolumne County, the seven-member county planning commission split 4-3 Wednesday night to deny a conditional use permit for a proposal that would convert the floor Vacant upper of a commercial building in Twain Harte to six apartment units.

The appointed commissioners initially voted 5-2 to recommend an amendment to the County General Plan and rezoning for the proposed project at 18701 Tiffeni Drive, which is owned by George Lee and Phyllis Chiu.

Commissioners who voted against the conditional use license recommendation were Linda Emerson, Kara Bechtle, Jim Jordan and Jerry Morrow, while those in favor were Mike Gustafson, Catherine Santa Maria and Larry Beil.

According to Dave Ruby, the county’s planning officer, Morrow said he thought a proposed 290-square-foot studio was too small before voting no on the conditional use permit. Jordan said he thought the Twain Harte community was confused about the project before voting no on the conditional use license, Ruby said.

Lee and Chiu will now have to appeal the commission’s decision on the conditional use license to the county board of supervisors in order for the project to be completed.

Ruby said he and his staff assumed Lee and Chiu would appeal, and if they did, the board would decide whether the project was approved and moved forward.

Ahead of the commission’s vote on Wednesday evening, county community development staff recommended approval of the project’s conditional use permit for several reasons, including that the proposed project is consistent with the county’s general plan and county ordinances. .

Lee and Chiu submitted an initial project application to the county’s community development department in September.

The existing commercial building is northeast of the intersection of Tiffeni Drive and Twain Harte Drive, just south of the Twain Harte Village Mall.

County staff describe it as a two-story, 10,448 square foot commercial office and retail building, with 42 parking spaces in a paved parking lot, driveway encroachment, and associated infrastructure.

The building’s second floor is 4,464 square feet, while the lower level houses the Twain Harte Library and a tax office.

Morrow, chairman of the commission, explained his reasons for voting against the conditional use permit for the six apartments in a telephone interview Thursday.

“It’s primarily a rural area,” Morrow said. “I don’t think it’s suitable for six apartments in this location as it’s a rural area. If the developer rents to adults who bring children into these apartments, where do the children play? In the parking lot? Also, you have shops downstairs, so children would be in danger from motorists coming and going to visit the shops downstairs.

Morrow said he visited the project site and found that the square footage appeared to be “simply too small for six apartments”. He thinks the developers are trying to make as much money as possible and put as many apartments as possible there.

“We don’t know if they’re going to rent in Section 8,” Morrow said, referring to government rent assistance that allows property managers to rent apartments and houses at fair market rates to tenants. low income qualified with rental subsidies available. “They have the option to submit it to the oversight board, so we’ll see what happens.”

The nearby Twain Harte Village mall has undergone changes in recent months. Twain Harte Pharmacy Drug & Variety moved from the mall in February to 22629 Twain Harte Drive, Suite D. Mountain Liquors moved from the mall in March to 23103 Fuller Road.

Howard Schindler, majority owner of the Twain Harte Village mall, and Erik Karstan Smith, an architectural designer working for Schindler, plan to convert a nearly vacant two-story building – at the east end of the mall – from commercial to residential for 21 apartments or more condominium units.

Their proposal is pending an area change and an amendment to the general county plan, Schindler and Smith said earlier this year.

Ruby said Thursday that county community development staff have stayed in touch with Schindler and Smith regarding the mall plan to convert the building into apartments, which is separate from Lee and Chiu’s proposal.

County staff are working “to solicit the project details necessary to submit a full application for this potential project” to the County Planning Commission, Ruby said, before adding that progress on the project is on hold for the moment pending the publication of documents and More information.

“We understand applicants are currently in dialogue with the Twain Harte Community Service District,” Ruby said Thursday, “to get a better sense of the potential utility impacts and requirements of their project, and the path criticism to come with the THCSD. would be.”

Schindler and Smith could not be reached for comment on Thursday. In January, the couple told The Union Democrat that the only proposals they had submitted to the county at that time were for an amendment to the county’s general plan and a change of area.

Schindler, who is not the sole owner of the Twain Harte Village mall, said in January there was demand for housing in the area, but no office space.

Ruby said county staff had asked for more details on exactly how many apartments Schindler and Smith wanted in the nearly vacant building.

Morrow said the unknowns about what will happen with the mall and the other businesses there still generate rumors and anxiety among some Twain Harte residents and owners.

“The big thing is the Twain Harte Village mall,” Morrow said. “We don’t know what these other developers are going to do. I understand the rents have gone up, and that’s why the pharmacy and the liquor store have moved. The grocery store called Twain Harte Market, they have a lease but it’s unclear what they’re going to do. It’s the only grocery store in town, not including 7-Eleven, which is why people care. The pizza factory is there. We don’t know what they will do.

“People who live in Twain Harte love the mall. They like to shop at Twain Harte. They love Sonora, but they don’t want to go down there every time they have to run errands.

The County Planning Commission consists of seven members appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Five members are meant to represent the county’s five supervisory districts and two members are meant to represent the general public.

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