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Downtown Apartment Proposal Sparks Controversy In Bakersfield

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Lofts on 18th
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A plan for a new apartment building in downtown Bakersfield has sparked a controversy among area neighbors, and debate over the future of infill development in the area.

Tonight, the Bakersfield City Council will hear an appeal from a group that hopes to stop the project, which was approved by the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment earlier this year. The group says the project is too big, doesn't have enough parking, and will clash with the other buildings in the area, some of which date to the early 1900's. 

The Lofts On 18th would be a new, four-story 28 unit residential building on what is today a vacant lot on 18th Street, just west of the city's main downtown business district.  The building would have 31 on-site parking spaces.

Edith Gibson is a principal in the firm that is developing the project, and was also involved in the 1621 City Lofts project on 19th Street.  She says the 1621 project has a long waiting list for prospective tenants who want to live in an urban environment, which is why they're pursuing the new building.

Gibson: "They're kind of that generation now in their mid-to-late 30's who grew up watching Seinfeld and all those programs that showed urban living. They're really saying 'why can't we have that kind of life in the smaller communities.'"

But that vision for downtown living also has opponents. Neighboring businesses, churches and doctors say they're concerned that the new residents will wind up usingthe precious on-street parking spaces they currently rely on. And they say the project is simply too big for the area, and too close to the street. 

John Sarad is one of them. He owns other historic buildings in the downtown area, including a Victorian-era house near the project. 

Sarad: "The parking along with the building is just very modern looking with a lot of exterior patios and a roof deck. It looks like something that would be very acceptable in the west park of Bakersfield that's being developed, or in Phoenix or Scottsdale or Denver."

Sarad says the city shouldn't allow a building of this size to go into the area. 

Sarad: "It is so out of character for the area that has been pretty carefully restored. We like the old houses, we like the open spaces, it's not a really dense sort of a development."

He says he doesn't oppose the project entirely, but he would like to see it redesigned as a smaller structure.

Project supporters however argue that the city's current plans and zoning laws allow for high density residential developments like the one proposed to be built in the neighborhood. Gibson says this sort of project is what city leaders had in mind when they drafted the Vision 2020 plan over a decade ago.

In order to get the project approved, the developers also need a concession from the city in the footprint of the building. The city typically requires buildings to be set further back from the street the taller they are. For a 50-foot building like this one, the normal setback requirement for the front yard would be 43 feet. In this case the developers are asking the city to allow only a six-foot setback in front, and a seven foot setback at the rear of the building, instead of the required 15 feet.

Despite the opposition, Gibson says she feels the building will be a positive addition to the neighborhood.

Gibson: "Change is just hard for people. I think it's just more about change. Once it's there I think they're going to see it as an asset."

She says if the building is approved and the appealed denied, she hopes it will clear the way for other infill projects downtown.

Joe Moore is the President and General Manager of Valley Public Radio. During his tenure, he's helped lead the station through major programming changes and the COVID-19 pandemic, while maintaining the station's financial health. From 2010-2018 he served as the station's Director of Program Content. In that role, he also served as the host of Valley Edition, and helped launch and grow the station's award-winning local news department. He is a Fresno native and a graduate of California State University, Fresno.