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City on quest to purchase properties in downtown
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The city of Ceres is continuing its quest to buy a number of properties in the downtown area.

The city is in negotiations with the owner of a Fourth Street house and store to expand the parking for the new Community Center. Bryan Briggs, the city's economic development manager, said the city is conducting an environmental review on the property since it contains underground gas tanks. The city wants to know the extent of any environmental hazards before it decides to take ownership.

Briggs could not talk about the potential sale since it is a closed session council item.

The city is also in negotiations with Cary and Nancy Pope to buy the site of a proposed senior housing project, Victorian Village, for the northeast corner of Fifth and North streets. On Oct. 13 the City Council discussed the appraisal for the lots surrounding the Clinton Whitmore Mansion and made an offer to land owners Cary and Nancy Pope.

"We're currently in negotiations," said Mayor Anthony Cannella.

The Ceres Redevelopment Agency is looking to purchase the land to assist in the development of the Victorian Village senior apartment complex. The land includes two parcels on the same block of the newly refurbished Clinton Whitmore Mansion.

Cannella said the city wants the senior project to become a reality at the location and that CRA ownership will help make it happen.

The property - located within the redevelopment area of Ceres - would be purchased through Ceres Redevelopment Agency housing set aside funds. The move would make it easier for the developer, Stanco, a non-profit affordable housing corporation, to secure funding on the $6.2 million project.

Originally the Popes planned to sell the land to Stanco to build the project. Having the CRA as owners will allow Stanco to more easier get financing and government subsidies for the project.

"Stanco will buy it from the CRA - at least that's the way I envision it," said Dave Meling, executive director of Stanco.

Earlier this year the city granted approval to Victorian Village, a 30-unit senior citizen complex near the mansion. The approval process included a rezoning of the property and approval to split the 2.6-acre parcel into three separate parcels. The Popes plan to keep the mansion available as an event center as Victorian Village develops around it.

The CRA is looking to buy two of the new parcels. The first parcel will contain a 20,860-square-foot two-story building comprised of 26 residential units and a parking lot. The second parcel of nearly 12,000 square feet - located northeast of the mansion - will contain a four-unit single-story cottage with five parking spaces.

Meling said the project is "one of the cornerstones for the revitalization of downtown Ceres. The new community center is only a block away so downtown Ceres is on the move and we hope to become part of the process."

Meling expects to apply for funding next year with construction occurring in 2010.

Plans are to offer Victorian Village units to low- and very-low-income senior citizens. Seniors will have to fall into two categories: those making 80 percent of the median income; and 20 percent of the units will be set aside for those making 50 percent of median income or less.

The Ceres Redevelopment Agency has already purchased two vacant lots in downtown. One is the southeast corner of Fifth and Lawrence; the other is across the street from the Wells Fargo Bank branch on Fourth Street.

Briggs said as the city develops its vision for downtown Ceres, the CRA is attempting to buy key development sites. It hired a real estate acquisitions firm in February to approach property owners about selling.