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City fine tunes Zoning Code before approval
Ceres city seal

The public had a chance to weigh in on the 334-page proposed Zoning Ordinance changes on Monday and as a result some minor changes are being made.

The hearing was part of the months-long process to update the Ceres Municipal Code .

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 last year.

The owner of Heaven’s Snow snow-cone kiosk business made an appeal for the council to rethink limiting her operation to 180 days out of the year through the current administrative permit process. Owners of the flavored ice business have sought permission to operate the kiosk year-round on the site of La Sequoia Market on Central Avenue. However, Mayor Chris Vierra spoke for the council when he said if the business wants to operate year-round it should consider a brick-and-mortar storefront.

The council also stuck its previous determination that residential uses will not be allowed in industrial zones. In the past the city has found people living in industrial buildings and abated the use as a code violation. On Monday tow truck business owner Duane Thompson suggested he could convert a unit on his industrially zoned parcel to a studio apartment to help someone with housing. Mayor Vierra said too many conflicts would arise in such a mix.

Renee Ledbetter, representing Ledbetter Construction of Ceres, asked the council to consider allowing smaller lot sizes for corner duplex lots in newer subdivisions. She specifically asked if the minimum lot size could be lowered from 9,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet.

“A developer would be more inclined to provide dual housing on those corner lots if the square footage was reduced,” said Ledbetter. “It would reduce the cost of upfront landscaping piece for the developer and then over the long-term the maintenance for the property.

Ledbetter said her husband has constructed duplexes on similar corner lots in the area of Blaker and Kinser roads, Kinser Road and McCord Way, Heavenly Way and McCord and Heavenly Way and Blaker Road. She said changing lot size would not reduce the size of the duplexes “by any means” but would reduce costs and water usage.

Because there are less than two dozen such lots, the council decided to make the change.

“I don’t think it impacts the integrity of the development at all,” said Vierra.

Developers would still be regulated to not cover the lot more than 40 percent in square foot.

Ledbetter also urged the council to not enact an outright ban on PODS in residential zones, saying many people need to use them when moving out of state. She suggested a limited period for them, not a complete ban.

Councilman Bret Durossette suggested leeway for people who move or whose houses have burned and need a place to store their goods.

City Manager Toby Wells recommended PODS being referenced in the Municipal Code but the actual policy outlined elsewhere. He suggested a 45- to 90-day limit.

“I think our concern was really the front yard, that we didn’t want people leaving them in the driveway for a year, or whatever,” said Vice Mayor Linda Ryno.

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 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.

The city is updating its 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.

Changes are being made to free up regulations on freeway oriented monument signs 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.

Tom Westbrook, the city’s Community Development director, said the change puts Ceres “more in line” with neighboring cities.

Another change affects residential fence heights. 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 lot. The proposed code change would allow someone to build a seven-foot-high fence not to exceed eight feet from the lowest lot side.

The city fields a lot of inquiries from residents about building fences taller than six feet. A common problem in Ceres is that when fences are replaced, some owners will install either a six- or 12-inch kickboard and set full six-foot planks atop, creating a fence taller than code allows.

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.

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.

Another important code change limits the number of recreational vehicles that may be parked within public view on a residential lot to two. 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. 

Other action points:

• 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 changes will undergo second reading and adoption on March 23 and take effect on May 1.

Also on Monday the council approved changes to Title 9 (Public Peace, Safety and Morals), Title 10 (Vehicles and Traffic) and Title 19 (Code Enforcement).

Titles 5, 12, 15, 16, 17 and 18 will be discussed on March 9 with a second reading and adoption on March 23.