In a split vote, the Lodi City Council placed restrictions on a proposed development on Tienda Drive, causing a local developer to cry foul and say he feels discriminated against.
At the Wednesday night meeting, the council was deciding on a little-known process that requires developers to first get permission from the council to move forward with the design of projects that add five or more new housing units to the city, before they can even submit plans to the city.
The last time the city went through the process was 6 years ago.
Developer John Giannoni Jr. proposed building 12 medium-density residential units that would be priced around $290,000 on Tienda Drive.
Mayor JoAnne Mounce and Councilmen Bob Johnson and Alan Nakanishi all said they were worried about neighbors' concerns that it was too many units for that lot.
"Lodi has been a city where people have come to live and have open space," Nakanishi said. "I'm concerned about noise and public safety when you have more high density."
Giannoni, who was born and raised in Lodi and has built residential and commercial projects throughout the city, said he is shocked the council will not let him move forward and submit plans for 12 units after he followed and complied with the city's process.
"Every one of my projects has been a stellar success, and the comments that people are going to try to limit my ability to compete in the marketplace when no one has the courage to go forward is a bit contrary to what my legal rights are," Giannoni said.
The council members who voted against his project are job-killers, Giannoni said after the decision, because he planned to hire 300 people in the local area to work on the project.
"The city is dictating that every property owner — and I hope to see it again and again — will have their project decided based on (the council's) judgment and not on the written law. ... I've never been so ashamed of our council," he said.
Because of the economy, the city has not had to go through this process, called a growth management allocation, in six years, city manager Rad Bartlam said. The city started using it in 1991 to regulate the growth, location, amount and timing of residential growth in the city.
The city has a certain amount of slots for each type of residential project. In this case, there are 600 medium density units available, but Gianonni is the only one this year to propose a project taking any of those spots, Bartlam said.
Before a housing developer can submit plans for their project and go through the city review process, Bartlam said they have to secure the slots through the allocation process. In past years, projects have competed for the spots and city staff would have to rank them.
Bartlam stressed that if the council granted the 12 growth management allocations, Gianonni would still have to meet city requirements and show that the project could fit on the property to at least the Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee and the Planning Commission.
"We have far in excess the number of allocations to give, and it really puts the onus on Mr. Gionnani to show he can meet our standards. ... There's no reason to not allow him that opportunity," Bartlam said.
But Johnson questioned why the council would approve an allocation of 12 units if the council members do not believe that many units can or should fit on that site. The city received a petition from 38 neighbors in the area opposing the project.
Mounce compared the development to what has happened on the Eastside, where developers took out single-family homes and put in apartment complexes.
"I live in destroyed neighborhoods day in and day out, and it breaks my heart to think of what that neighborhood looked like 30 years ago and where it is now," she said.
But Councilmen Larry Hansen and Phil Katzakian, who supported the proposal, said the council should approve the allocations and let Gianonni present his project to the city's committees in open hearings.
"I don't think it's my role to sit up here and legislate from the dais for nine units or 12 units, because we haven't gotten into that much depth with this project yet," Hansen said.
He later added, "I feel like as a property owner, if you are playing by the rules, and you are meeting the requirements, if there is not a horrendous reason not to, we need to support that."
After the meeting, Gianonni said he planned to live in one of the homes, and he already has school teachers from Vacaville planning to retire in a home. But with only nine units, the project is not economically feasible, and he plans to get his lawyers involved.
"They are putting me out of business. They are putting all of the people I employ out of business. ... I paid the city thousands of dollars to take out the applications and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be turned down," he said.