County planning commission approves zone change despite concerns over growth into ag land
TULARE COUNTY – If the middle of farmland sounds like a strange place for a brick-and-mortar business, some on the Tulare County planning commission might agree. Nevertheless, in a 4-2 vote, the commission approved a zone change at Road 108 and Avenue 264, home to a small fruit stand. Proposed for future development is a drive-thru coffee shop and bakery.
In the discussion prior to approval, Commissioner Ed Dias noted that there isn’t any other commercial zoning close by the proposed location, south of Visalia.
“It seems to me that zone changes should be progressive from existing developed areas, not started in the middle and move backwards,” Dias said. “If it’s our mandate to protect agriculture, I don’t think in my opinion this is a wise move to put a kink in the armor right in this location at this time.”
Aaron Bock, assistant director of planning and economic development for the county’s Resource Management Agency, said there is already a current conditional use permit on the property for Sequoia Veterinary Services, Inc., making the site somewhat commercial in nature. Previous entitlements on the property have also included the drive-thru coffee shop, once in 2017 and again in 2019. He said the commission has approved other zone changes throughout the county for similar situations that are commercially viable.
“I know as a planner the concern is you put a gas station out on Highway 99 and all the homes are going to start going up behind it, like Fresno’s history,” Bock said, “but the reality is, from what I’ve seen here, that’s not the case. The gas station sustains itself, and that’s really it as far as growth.”
Commissioner Maria McElroy the difference between commercial ag uses intended for ag areas like a feed store or a fruit stand versus something that is clearly commercial and intended to draw traffic like a coffee shop.
Bock responded saying the county usually issues conditional use permits to things like feed stores and fruit stands for being slightly out of the zoning requirements, and is a way for the county to keep an eye on growth.
“The actual commercial change that we are seeking here, takes the power away from us as far as the condition, and allows them to proceed by right,” Bock said.
A zone change to C-1 would allow the applicants to put a multitude of different types of businesses on the property, from banks and liquor stores to bookstores and barber shops. The way to slap a restriction on what can be operated within the zone change is to come to an agreement with the owner that they are limited to a coffee shop and a bakery, Bock said.
“That would be a contract, a development agreement, and we have done those before,” Bock said.
In the motion to approve the zone change, the commission did include limiting the applicants activity to just the bakery, coffee shop and fruit stand. The county confirmed that Cesar and Brittany Narciso, the applicants for the zone change, are also the owners of the fruit stand and veterinary clinic.
The project site is rated “severe” for sewage disposal, meaning the location does not have a great septic system. The veterinary center on site currently has a septic system, but it is unclear if it could also serve the proposed coffee shop and bakery.
“It would require some sort of advanced engineered system treatment,” Bock said, “and as they go through the process with the building permit, they would need to make sure that they comply with our local agency management program.”
Because a zone change is legislative in nature, the item must go before the county board of supervisors for final approval. Planning staff said they are in the process of writing up the agenda item, and a date has yet to be set.