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Controversial housing project gets council axe
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Plans to build an affordable apartment complex on Whitmore Avenue unraveled big time at Monday evening's Ceres City Council meeting.

The proposed 48-unit Cambridge Park Apartments was shot down in a 4-0 vote.

The proposal was approved on June 16 by a 4-1 vote of the Ceres Planning Commission despite several persons stating concerns about the project adding to Whitmore's traffic count and children safety.

But the developer admitted on Monday that he didn't want to see the 3.1 acres west of Rockefeller Drive being rezoned from commercial to residential if the city couldn't play a financial role. Mike Kelly of Pacific West Communities said he didn't see any reason to proceed with the project unless the Ceres Redevelopment Agency could commit $4.3 million. It's not uncommon for redevelopment agencies to assist in financing affordable housing projects because cities are mandated to create living units for low- and moderate-income families. But since the city only has $3.4 million in housing set aside funding - and other projects are clamoring for those funds - the council was backed against a wall.

The last minute curveball stunned city officials; City Manager Brad Kilger closed his eyes and shook his head.

On Monday the council heard more public input against Cambridge Park. Jim and Kathy Casey, who own a business on the west side, cited the already existing traffic volumes on Whitmore Avenue. The Caseys noted that the project was drawn with only access from Whitmore Avenue and no back access to avoid the busy street. The project site is located on the south side of Whitmore Avenue, west of Rockefeller Drive. City Planning Manager Barry Siebe, however, noted that apartments would have less of an effect on traffic than if the three acres were to develop commercially.

Mildred Vine said she was concerned that the project had the potential to generate at least 88 children and feared they would be darting across traffic to buy candy at the Fairview Market across Whitmore Avenue.

City planners defended the merits of the project, saying that Ceres is seriously behind in its affordable housing numbers. The Regional Housing Needs Allocation calls for Ceres to have 1,695 new dwelling units but as of 2005 only 587 had been constructed.

"It just doesn't fit," said Councilman Bret Durossette. He noted the distances kids would have to walk for schools, parks and businesses.

Vice Mayor Chris Vierra said what was being proposed was a "nice project" but called it the "right project in the wrong place." He said he didn't want the city to make another planning error as when it allowed houses to back up onto Mitchell Road where commercial should have been constructed.

Councilman Ken Lane said he has never favored converting commercial zones into residential uses. "This is not the place for it," Lane said.

Mayor Anthony Cannella said the site will be difficult to develop commercially without teaming up with neighboring land.

"I don't think this project is going to go forward anyway," said Cannella.

Councilman Guillermo Ochoa abstained from voting.