For the first time in six years, the Lodi Planning Commission went through a complicated, little-known process requiring developers to get permission to move forward with the design of projects that add five or more new housing units to the city.
Developer John Giannoni has proposed 12 medium-density residential units on Tienda Drive. The roofs of the homes connect, but the walls of the houses do not, and they would be priced around $290,000, Giannoni said.
About 25 local residents showed up at the meeting to voice concerns about the project increasing traffic on Tienda.
"Tienda is already a very busy street and with the new park and the 80-unit senior complex, traffic flow and safety is an issue," resident Roger Barker said.
But city staff and some members of the commission said those objections should wait until a commission meeting in the future, after firm plans are submitted.
The process the commission went through Wednesday night is called a growth management allocation. The city started conducting it yearly in 1991 to regulate the growth, location, amount and timing of residential developments in the city.
Because of the economy, housing has halted in the city, so no one has requested an allocation in six years, city manager Rad Bartlam said.
Here's how the process works: The city has a certain amount of slots for each type of residential project. Before a housing developer can submit plans for their project and go through the city review process, Bartlam said they have to secure the spots for their units through the growth management allocation.
In this case, there are 600 medium density units available, but Giannoni is the only one this year to propose a project taking any of those spots.
In the past, the city would have multiple projects competing for the 600 spots, Bartlam said. City staff would rank them, and then the commission would decide which projects should be allowed move forward and start the city review process.
Because no other project has applied, Bartlam said there is no reason to not approve the allocations for this project, even with resident concerns.
"You are virtually hand-tied in a reason why you would not allocate the units," Bartlam said. "Granting anything less than the 12 that he's requesting and not going through the second phase of the project would be arbitrary."
The second phase will start with the city's typical plan check process, which means the project will have to come back before the commission, Bartlam said.
At that meeting, the commission will be able to evaluate whether 12 units can fit on the property, and residents will be able to voice any other concerns, he said.
In a 4-2 vote, the commission approved the allocation. Commissioners Wendel Kiser and Randy Heinitz voted against the allocation, and David Kirsten was absent for the vote.
Commissioner Steve Hennecke said he did not receive any plans or architectural documents on the project, so he was willing to approve it and then see what the developer is actually planning.
"The design of the project has no meaning for me as a commissioner tonight. I have no idea what he is building and what's going in there yet," he said.
Fred Baker, who originally was going to build a project with Giannoni in the area and then developed his own set of duplexes, suggested the council only allocate nine units, because that would ease many of the fears of residents in the Sunwest neighborhood.
"It still gives Mr. Giannoni a nice project, but it doesn't overbuild the area," Baker said.
Commissioner Wendel Kiser also voiced concerns about allowing 12 units on that site. He sited other streets around town where planning decisions caused excess traffic.
"We are always going to grow and we are always going to be busy, but I don't want to make things worse," he said.
Hennecke said he looked forward to seeing the project plans, and noted that the project has many more steps before final approval.
"I'm just glad that we are seeing someone who wants to build around here and get rid of the dirt lot," he said.