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City Council takes crack at Zoning Code changes
• City wants new check on methadone clinics
ceres city seal

The quest to update the Ceres Municipal Code continued last week when the City Council took its first look at a 334-page draft of proposed Zoning Code changes.

City Manager Toby Wells said the Zoning Code is being changed mostly to reflect changes in state law; and the Ceres General Plan which was approved in 2019.

The city is inserting changes to require future proposals for methadone clinics to seek a conditional use permit before they can operate in any zone. Currently the code allows methadone clinics as a permitted use in commercial zones. The change comes five months after a group of citizens sought to have the council block the Aegis Treatment Center from opening in a Community Commercial zone on Mitchell Road. City leaders told the citizens there was nothing they could do to stop Aegis since medical clinics are a permitted use in Ceres.

While Aegis is preparing to open in the strip mall behind Walmart, the change gives the city ultimate control over any future proposals for a new clinic.

Wells said the city must update the Sign code to reflect the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Reed v. Town of Gilbert. He called the case “pretty significant” which has “cascaded through a lot of local governments in how we regulate signs.” Specifically, cities no longer have the ability to restrict signs for cultural, non-profit organizations or religious events or purposes as a free speech right.

The council also reviewed changes to regulations on freeway oriented monument signs similar to the one for the Hatch Road Shopping District along Highway 99. The city currently limits monument sizes to 50 feet high but wants to permit such signs of up to 85 feet. The city wants to expand the allowable size of the face of such signs from 180 square feet to 500.

“That puts us more in line with the neighbors in the county,” noted Tom Westbrook, the city’s Community Development director.

Residential fence heights were also discussed. Current code limits fences to six feet high except if the fence is between lots with differing elevations. In some cases a fence will be six foot tall for one lot but seven to eight feet as seen from the lower elevated lot. The proposed code change would allow someone to build a seven-foot-high fence not to exceed eight feet from the lowest lot.

Wells explained that a common problem in Ceres is that when fences are replaced, some owners will install either a six-inch or 12-inch kick-board and set full six-foot planks atop, creating a fence taller than code allows.

Westbrook added that he fields a lot of inquiries from residents about building fences taller than six feet.

On Jan. 27 the council spent time discussing the expansion of definitions of allowable covered structures on a side yard for the protection of RVs. Westbrook said the city wants to allow residents with wider side yards to be able to erect an accessory shelter structure to cover a boat, trailer or RV. Such a structure could be allowed only if the other side of the house is accessible for fire crews in case of fires or other emergencies. Westbrook said such accessory structures could not be connected to the house.

“It’s limited to where it would actually apply,” added Wells.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno seemed troubled about a resident being able to put such an accessory structure right up against the property fence – provided it is at least five feet from the house. Ryno said such a structure as tall as 14 feet and against the property line could visually impact someone who enjoys using their backyard.

“I don’t like that,” said Ryno.

“And I do,” retorted Councilman Mike Kline. Mayor Chris Vierra agreed.

Wells recommended the council being able to place some conditions on them.

Regulations are still in effect limiting structures on a lot to cover no more than 40 percent.

Westbrook said some structures to come motor homes need only be 11 to 12 feet tall.

Ryno turned to Kline and said: “I’m just glad I don’t live next door to you – that’s all I’m going to say.”

Ryno brought up the issue of metal moving storage containers, often called PODS, which sometimes creep into residential zones for indefinite lengths of time. Westbrook said PODS are not allowed on any portion of residential property – even in a backyard. Westbrook said those converted into mini-houses might be allowed under the Building Code and a permit.

Ryno also asked about a provision requiring residents to “appropriately” landscape at least 50 percent of their front and exterior side yards. When asked to define “appropriate,” Westbrook noted the language is mostly a tool to “prohibit people from concreting their entire front yard.” He acknowledged that while it’s easy to require developers to install nice landscaping in new subdivisions, it’s tricky to control the appearance of yards years later.

Attention turned to the lack of code to limit the number of recreational vehicles that may be parked within public view on a single residential lot. Westbrook said it’s conceivable that without such limits a resident could park a trailer on the side yard, a boat in front of that in the driveway and another RV. The code is proposed to place a limit of two. Knowing there will be more meetings before adopting any changes, the council indicated a willingness to receive public input before making a final determination.

Councilman Mike Kline asked about a requirement that a security plan be submitted for all multiple-family residential complexes of 50 units or more. Westbrook said he rarely receives any such plans and questioned the value in the requirement since most investors already secure properties without a plan submitted to the city. The council decided to strike the requirement since security wasn’t even defined.

While the city does not allow sign twirling on sidewalks or street corners, Ryno wants to see the restriction spelled out in the modified code.

Other action points included:

• The council won’t require an applicant to appear at a Planning Commission when deliberating on their application for a site plan approval. Applicants are encouraged to attend, however. The city attorney recommended the change because requiring attendance is “probably” not legally defensible.

• The council is changing the parking stall formula for when new apartment complexes in an effort to provide greater parking for residents. Currently the city requires one-and-a-half parking spaces per dwelling unit. The new formula calls for 1.5 spaces for a one-bedroom unit, two spaces for a two-bedroom unit, and 2.5 spaces for three-bedroom units.

• The council won’t allow kiosk type businesses like Heaven’s Snow to operate 365 days a year instead of the 180-day limit through the current administrative permit process. Owners of the snow-cone business cited the difficulty of moving their “temporary” building twice per year when there 180 days are up and sought permission to let it remain on the site of La Sequoia Market on Central Avenue from year to year. Vierra said leaving the kiosk in place makes it a “permanent business” while escaping the permits paid by brick and mortar competitors.

• The council rejected the idea of allowing people to live in industrial zones. In the past the city has found people using industrial space of living quarters and shut it down as a code violation. Wells brought the item to the council for an opinion since the city has been asked if it could relax the standards. The council said no.

The changes will be reviewed by the Ceres Planning Commission on Monday, Feb. 3 and come back to the council on Feb. 24. Its adoption is expected to occur on March 9.