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Planners approve new Mitchell Road office complex
Variance approved for setback
Proposed building
An artists rendering of a new commercial center for the vacant ground immediately north of the Orchard Park Center. The project will back up to residential lots with zero setback. - photo by Courtesy of the city of Ceres

A couple wanting to build a 14,010 square-foot office building on Mitchell Road that will include a restaurant received approval for a variance from the Ceres Planning Commission on Monday to be excused from a rear setback requirement.

Their request was approved unanimously.

Harry and Karen Bhatti of Ceres went to the city panel in hopes the city would not hold them to a required 10-foot distance between the building and the rear of the property line. The couple is proposing their L-shaped building in a vacant lot just north of the Orchard Park Center, which abuts to a residential neighborhood. The commission voted 5-0 to allow the building to be placed right on the property line.

The commission did approve the proposed building's architecture under the Specific Plan Site Plan review process.

Approximately 3,000 feet would be reserved for a restaurant.

The Bhattis are proposing to make the new project look similar to neighboring Orchard Park. However, the new project will stray from the grey colors and implement brown earth tones.

They sought a variance, fearing that a 10-foot-wide area behind the building would provide a place for vagrants to congregate out of the public eye. The applicants further commented that the three homeowners living on Archcliffe Drive west of the project site preferred to have the building wall separating them rather than an eight-foot block wall with the building 10 feet away.

In his staff report, Community Development Director Tom Westbrook noted that a variance can only be granted if it meets all four finding:

• There are exceptional or extraordinary circumstances or conditions applicable to the property involved or to the intended use of the property which do not apply generally to other property in the same vicinity and zone.

• Such variance is necessary for the preservation and enjoyment of a substantial property right of the applicant, which right is possessed by other property owners under like conditions in the same vicinity and zone, and the adjustment thereby authorized shall not constitute a granting of special privilege inconsistent with the limitations upon other properties in the same vicinity and zone.;

• The granting of the variance will not be materially detrimental to the public health, safety, convenience and welfare or injurious to property and improvement in the same vicinity and zone in which the property is located;

• The granting of such a variance will not be contrary to the objectives of the General Plan.

Westbrook laid the case that all the findings could be made, first saying that the 10-foot setback creates unsafe access to the rear yard areas of these three residences as the location is somewhat secluded and out of the public eye. "Allowing the placement of the building as proposed by the applicant will improve the safety of these residences and eliminates the possibility of criminal activity happening behind the proposed building," Westbrook wrote in his staff report.

He also noted that if the neighboring properties were designated commercial, the placement of the building on the property line would be permitted.

To meet the third test, Westbrook said the variance would not be injurious to neighboring commercial property since it the proposed architectural design is "an improvement that is consistent with the MRCSP that will aesthetically enhance the property and those building features of other businesses within the vicinity." Some buildings in the Orchard Park center are also built touching the property line.

The variance, finally, would not be contrary to the general as it will not be contrary to the HC (Highway Commercial) General Plan designation in this area.

The Bhattis said they have one tenant interested but would not disclose what the business was.

Commissioner Couper Condit said the project and pleased "that someone is trying to expand the Mitchell Road Corridor, especially on this location close to the freeway. I think it would be a good addition to Ceres."

Gary Del Nero, another commissioner, expressed concerns about allowing traffic to make left turns onto northbound Mitchell Road out of the new project. Westbrook noted, however, that left turns are permitted from the Orchard Park Center from a driveway to the south and closer to the signalized intersection at Don Pedro Road. With the new ingress/egress being 150 yards farther to the north, it may be easier to make left turns.

"It's great to see we're getting new businesses coming back and people are investing in Ceres again," said Commissioner Bob Kachel. "It's been a long time. I'm very happy to see this come in."

Kachel said he was struck by how the variance findings could all be made, something not easily achieved in the planning process.

Commissioner Hugo Molina liked the project and said "it's definitely going to bring improvement to Mitchell Road." But he expressed concern over the colors, fearful that "we're going to see orange all across Mitchell Road from now." Westbrook said the tones are more brown and consistent with the color schemes outlined in the Mitchell Road Corridor Specific Plan. He also reminded Molina that Orchard Park is a grey color.

Laurie Smith, chair of the commission, said she is excited.

"This part of Mitchell Road, as well as Ceres in general, we're seeing more and more applications come before the Planning Commission, which is exciting," said Smith. She directed her comments at the applicant when she said: "I'm encouraged that although you don't have any tenants signed at this time, you have the faith in the market as well as this area of Ceres to move forward with this building so I appreciate that very much."