After hearing complaints from neighbors about parking and public access, the Lodi Planning Commission added extra requirements to their approval of a project St. Anne's Catholic Church proposed to turn part of Walnut Street into a plaza.
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 and St. Anne's Catholic School on the south side.
Father Brandon Ware came up with the idea after watching a parish in Stockton purchase 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.
Lodi plans for the Walnut property include sidewalks, fountains, landscaping and seating areas, and they plan to do it in a Spanish mission style.
"I appreciated the Downtown's gift of beauty and I want to tie into it. ... I want (the plaza) to be a bridge between us and the community, and for it to be a place of welcome, because I think that's what the Catholic Church is all about, welcoming everyone," Ware said.
The Planning Commission signed off on the plans with the additional requirements in a 5-0 vote. Commissioner Bill Cummins was absent and Commissioner Dave Kirsten could not vote because he owns property in the area.
The Lodi City Council still has to make a final decision at a meeting tentatively scheduled for January. If the council approves the project, the city will get the piece of land appraised. St. Anne's will have to pay the city for the land, and the church would become the permanent owners.
Neighbors brought up a variety of concerns about the project, including that St. Anne's could eventually fence the property and keep out the public.
Before the meeting, Commissioner Randy Heinitz spent hours watching traffic on Walnut Street and speaking with neighbors. Many of them said they use Walnut Street to walk Downtown and know others stroll from Downtown to Hutchins Street Square.
City Manager Rad Bartlam added to the requirements that the plaza area shall not be closed from public access except for special events, and the church would have to come back before the commission with any changes.
The other two additional requirements stem from parking. The first is that St. Anne's parishioners and parents at the school are required to park and pick up their children without blocking the surrounding streets or the public right-of-way. The second is that St. Anne's needs to come up with drop-off routes before and after school that do not cause traffic congestion, and city staff has to approve the plans.
Heinitz said the required plans that would diagram how parents can pick up children without causing a bottleneck should be similar to what Lodi Unified School District submits when they build a new school.
Commissioners decided to add in the requirements after neighbors expressed frustration with staff and parents parking in front of driveways and double-parking when picking up children in the afternoon.
Dan Phillips lives in the 300 block of Walnut Street and owns The Dermal Clinic in the 100 block of Walnut Street. While he is a former graduate of St. Anne's, he said he could not support the project because of how often parishioners park in front of his home and business.
"I don't want to see Downtown Lodi turn into a parking lot for St. Anne's," Phillips said.
As a 2007 graduate of St. Anne's, Addison Beach said he supports the project, but also worries about the parking. He lives on Pleasant Avenue with his mom, and people frequently block their driveway. The parking situation makes it hard for his family to even have gatherings at their home.
"My 80-year-old grandmother should not have to walk a block and a half to come see us," he said.
Phillips, Beach and multiple others neighbors suggested that the city look into permit parking in that area to ensure residents can park near their homes. The Planning Commission voiced support for city staff researching the idea and bringing it back to a future meeting, acknowledging that other businesses in the area and Downtown events also cause parking problems.
Walnut Street resident Lindarae Larocca said she was not concerned about parking because it has always been a problem. Instead she is hoping the creation of the plaza could solve another frequent problem: speeding. Ever since Hutchins Street Square opened, people have raced down the street, Larocca said. It has gotten so bad she doesn't let her grandkids play outside in the front yard anymore.
"If we stop that street from having through traffic, people are not going to race drunk from Hutchins Street Square," she said. "Our street has become very dangerous. It's not longer a quiet, pleasant street."
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.