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Council approves apartment complex
• 64 units to accommodate approximately 200 new residents at Service & Morgan roads
Aura Luxury Ceres
An architectural rendering of apartment/townhouse buildings in the Aura Luxury Homes project approved for the northwest corner of Service and Morgan roads.

Ceres’ first apartment complex in approximately 15 years was approved Monday evening by the Ceres City Council.

The city expects development of the 64-unit apartment complex and adjacent 8,240-square-foot retail commercial building for southwest Ceres to occur in three phases over the next three years. Jaskarn Chahal of Chahal Investments, LLC of Ceres is the applicant.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the project. Mayor Chris Vierra was absent.

Community Development Director Tom Westbrook said the rentals will be offered at market rates, meaning they won’t be government subsidized for low-income families. Based on the current local market, rents could fall in the range of $1,200 to $1,600 per month.

In September the Ceres Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend that the City Council approve the project on four lots at the northwest corner of Morgan and Service roads. Commissioner Bob Kachel disapproved of the project but did not state what his objections were.

The council approved amendments to both the General Plan and Brown Annexation Master Plan to expand an existing High Density Residential (HDR) General Plan designation (and amending the Commercial designation of the Brown Annexation Master Plan to HDR) to the southwest portion of the site to allow for potential residential development, while the southeast end of the site remains as Community Commercial (CC) and Commercial designations in both the General Plan and the Master Plan. 

The second consideration was for a Vesting Tentative Parcel Map to subdivide the 4.85-acre site into four parcels where said lots range from 0.85 acres to 1.48 acres in size with three lots reserved for the apartment/townhouse units and the fourth lot being for retail commercial building.

Thirdly, the council approved a Site Plan Approval that would allow for the architectural review, use, and placement of a 8,240-square-foot retail commercial building, and a 64-unit apartment/townhouse complex consisting of two to three-bedroom units situated within 18 two-story buildings containing two to four units each, and one 625-square-foot building for management.

The project meets all standards of the Planned Community – 49 zone district and will have a density of 16 dwelling units per acre, which is far less than the 25 that could potentially be allowed with the HDR designation. At the higher density, the applicant could have built 36 additional units.

Westbrook estimated that the project could generate around 200 new residents.

The project will be accessible along Tranquil Lane, two access points on Morgan Road, and two on Service Road, one of which will serve as secondary access and emergency vehicle access. The primary access to the apartment/townhouse units will be from Tranquil Lane and Morgan Road to serve the residential development, and the primary access to the commercial building will be from Morgan Road and Service Road which will lead to the project parking area consisting of 47 spaces to serve the retail development.

Each building will be designed to include architectural features to enhance the surrounding area.

Parking became a focus during the public hearing. Proposed are 107 parking spaces, of which 64 garage stalls will be available and 43 uncovered parking spaces will be provided to tenants. The city is requiring the condition that garages will be used only to store vehicles to ensure enough parking is there to serve residents.

Ceres resident John Warren was critical of the amount of parking spaces offered, saying at least two drivers would be living at each unit, which justified additional stalls.

The city standard for parking is 1.5 spaces per apartment unit. That standard could be changed when the city updates its Municipal Code.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno asked if the city was concerned that the commercial portion was whittled down to where it “doesn’t line up with the existing commercial across the street.” Associate Planner James Michaels indicated there has been no interest in developing the property until now and feels it is a “good fit” for the property.

Councilman Mike Kline supported the project but expressed irritation that the city was amending its General Plan shortly after an expensive update.

“The first two things that have come to us for growth have asked us to amend our general plan update,” said Kline. “So why did we spend all this money if we’re going to turn around and amend it with the first two things that come before us?”

Westbrook replied that the property was owned by a different party during the update process “so there’s no way staff could have anticipated making a change without having some property owner request.” He said while General Plans are generally good for 10 to 15 years, amendments can occur up to four times a year.

“Ceres needs housing,” said Councilman Bret Durossette, “and we need places for people to live in Ceres.” He called the mixed use “a good use.”

The approval is welcome news for those who have been unable to find apartments to rent in Ceres and the area. Apartments in Stanislaus County are difficult to find – and becoming expensive – as the population continues to outstrip available housing stock in California. Last year the California Housing Partnership Corporation reported that Stanislaus County needed nearly 20,000 more apartments and other affordable housing to meet the needs of its low-income renters alone. Turlock built 591 moderately priced units in 2016 and 2017, compared to only 59 in Modesto. Ceres has built none.

In May the City Council voted 4-1 against a proposed 145-unit three-story apartment complex and strip commercial project on Mitchell Road, citing impacts to traffic and concerns about circulation within.

 the parking lot.