Members of St. Anne's Catholic Church burst into applause after learning that their idea to buy a section of Walnut Street and turn it into a landscaped plaza was approved by the Lodi City Council on Wednesday.
The council held a public hearing on the project in front of an audience packed full of St. Anne's supporters.
The plan is for the city to vacate and sell Walnut Street between Pleasant Avenue and Church Street to St. Anne's, allowing them to create a common area so children no longer have to dodge cars while walking between the church on the north side of the street and St. Anne's School on the south side.
Father Brandon Ware came up with the idea after a parish in Stockton purchased a street separating one of their churches from a school. The parish built a plaza that benefited not only the church, but also the entire community, Ware said.
The church's plans for the Walnut Street property include sidewalks, fountains, landscaping and seating areas, and they plan to do it in a Spanish mission style.
"When I came to Lodi, I experienced a love for a city I had never imagined was possible," Ware said. "Now it's time to make that invisible love visible in a concrete way, with the gift of this plaza we propose."
Deputy Public Works Director Charlie Swimley gave a report on the proposed plaza project. He said installing the plaza, with the approved driveways for dropping off students, would not increase any traffic flow problems, and that there was ample parking. While the street will become church property, the city still has the right to powerlines and other utilities.
A few local residents and even one churchgoer voiced their opposition.
Marie Allen lives on the corner of Walnut and Lee streets, and said the traffic survey was not accurate.
"When it's pick-up time and parents drop off their kids, the cars back up clear to my street," she said. "This is our route to get (to) Downtown, and most of us in that two-block area will be cut off."
Pam Roosma, a member of St. Anne's and a greeter for the church, said removing those close parking spots by installing a plaza pushes handicapped churchgoers even farther away from the front door.
"And who is going to clean up this park of ours? The church gets cleaned up by the dust angels maybe once a week," she said, adding that homeless people might venture in and leave their items there.
Councilman Larry Hansen voiced his support of the project, and wondered if the city could make a gift of the street to save the church some money.
City Attorney Steve Schwabauer said there are laws against cities making gifts of public funds, referring to the $45,000 assessed value of the street.
"Framed in the fashion Father Ware referenced it, I would be uncomfortable with you funding a gift of Catholic love to the Lodi community," said Schwabauer.
Councilman Bob Johnson said he considered the plaza a public improvement.
"You hear of pocket parks, little pieces of green space stuck between 125-foot buildings, taking a break in the middle of a workday," he said. "This will be one of those."
The council approved vacating the stretch of street 5-0.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.