Neighbors of a planned apartment complex wrote to the Lodi City Council on Wednesday night that they don’t feel the city has been listening to their concerns opposing the project.
The council voted 3-2 to approve a growth allocation of 20 additional high-density units to the previously approved Benjamin Apartment project planned for Van Ruiten Ranch.
John Della Monica, the city’s community development director, said 88 units of growth allocation had already been approved for the Van Ruiten Ranch before the applicant — C Note LP — had designed the apartment complex.
The project site, a vacant two-acre parcel located at the corner of South Lower Sacramento Road and West Century Boulevard, had been approved as part of the annexation of the ranch in 2007, according to Wednesday’s staff report.
With Wednesday’s approval, an additional 20 units approved would bring the total number of apartments in the project to 108.
According to Wednesday’s staff report, the project will include 48 two-bedroom apartments and 60 one-bedroom apartments in six three-story buildings, as well as a clubhouse.
“The Benjamin is a rather attractive project,” Della Monica said. “A little bit different than what we’ve seen before. But the term ‘Benjamin’ referred to the U.S. Mint, and so there’s a lot of infrastructure and a lot of play on that. We think this will be a nice addition to the city.”
In an email read to the council by City Clerk Jennifer Cusmir, resident Rochelle Pham said she has been voicing opposition to the project at previous planning commission and site plan architectural review committee meetings.
Pham, whose home is adjacent to the project site, wrote that she felt exhausted raising her concerns — which included safety, privacy, noise, project size and location, among others — because it seemed the complex would be approved anyway.
“I do not want people I do not even know looking into my home and backyard from their balconies,” she said. “The entry and exits are right next to me and face into neighborhoods. This creates an inconvenient increase of traffic and nuisance to the neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if the apartment complex is luxurious, because if a person can’t afford to rent, they can partner up with multiple people to get on the lease or just find someone to put their name on the lease.”
Pham said she would rather see single-family homes built at the site, which would be consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
Paramjit Singh Uppal also lives near the proposed project site, and in an email to the council, wrote that there were a number of reasons she was opposed to the complex. If it was not rejected, she said, she would go to court.
“If high-density units are built, it affects sun exposure to my house, which I enjoy most in the early morning,” she said. “It is congested in that area already. If high-density apartments exist, that’s not safe for us and we will feel stuck. In the future, if any natural disaster happens, like an earthquake, high density units are not safe for us. There are too many reasons I want to explain, but at the end, I just want to say I am not satisfied with this plan.”
But David Diskin said because housing is currently expensive and rare in Lodi, these additional 108 units were much needed for people looking for homes.
The city should consider making about 20% of the proposed units affordable, Diskin added, as there is a five-year wait on housing choice through programs offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I did read some of the letters that are opposing the change, and my heart goes out to some of the homeowners in the area that are concerned about traffic and safety, especially for the children,” he said. “And so while I definitely want to see more homes and infill happen, I would love for the developer to address those issues and if there’s a way to rework the plan in some way to make the streets safer ... I would highly encourage that.”
Councilmen Shak Khan and Doug Kuehne opposed the allocation, with the former citing a lack of safety features such as an elevator for disabled residents who may live on the second or third floors of the complex.
Kuehne opposed the allocation because project specifics and neighbors’ concerns had not been brought to the council’s attention before approval, nor had the idea of making some of the units affordable, something he agreed was needed in the city.
“I’ve voiced my concerns about this numerous times over the last six years, and I’m voting ‘no’ just because of that,” Kuehne said. “This is not an appropriate situation to put the council in, to approve something that hasn’t been vetted by this council, such as, ‘Can we get vouchers?’ ‘Do we get elevators?’ I don’t have a problem with expanding the units, but there’s some other conditions we have not looked at. That comes before us, and we have to put our stamp of approval on it. And I’ve said this in the past and I’m going to tell you again, I’m not voting for this stuff anymore.”
Mike Carouba of C Note LP said staircases in three-story apartment buildings meets national standards, and that elevators are not something included in designs.
There are two sides to the issue of affordability, he added: how much someone can afford to pay, and how much something costs.
“The cost to build anything in Lodi is difficult and expensive,” he said. “When you realize the hoops we have to go through in California and in Lodi, we have all of these things built into the project, and those things get kind of taken for granted, and then we want something else, it’s difficult to meet.”
If there was an opportunity to build affordable housing elsewhere in the city, Carouba said, he’d be happy to participate in the project.
City Manager Steve Schwabauer said that because the project was discussed at the SPARC and Planning Commission, residents opposed to it could have filed an appeal with the city. None had been made prior to the meeting, and now the opportunity to appeal the project had passed.
Councilman Mark Chandler said projects such as this one do not come to the council because there is a phased review in which SPARC and the Planning Commission vet the project, not the council.
“Everyone one of us are given a calendar of public meetings every week as to when those entities are going to meet and what their agendas are,” he said. “So if we wanted to speak to them, we had ample opportunity before it came to us. And while I recognize some of those are legit concerns, I actually think this a properly vetted project.”