By Carolyn Barbre
You wouldn't compare the Lindsay business district with New Orleans - or would you?
If you see people on a balcony with a lot of nightlife activity on the narrow street below you could be looking at the back of El Patio Restaurant in Lindsay's central commercial district at 123 W. Honolulu St.
El Patio has been closed since September 2003. Owner Refugio Rios III thought he was closing the doors for good, had even been looking for a buyer.
But the City of Lindsay was not accepting the notion that one of the town's favorite eateries couldn't make a go of it, not after a 12-year run. City Manager Scot Townsend had an idea for a revenue source to hold the business over during slow times - convert the upstairs into apartments.
At the June 8 Lindsay City Council meeting Rios was on the agenda requesting a Conditional Use Permit application to provide a six-unit multi-family housing complex on the second floor of El Patio. Community Development Analyst Bill Zigler addressed the council. He described the units as having hardwood flooring throughout with custom cabinets and tile countertops. Three of the units will have lofts with spiral staircases providing access. The loft apartments will have 16 foot ceilings. A balcony sitting area overlooking the improved alley/pedestrian walkway will be provided for residents. Each apartment will have a washer and dryer.
This is, of course, in keeping with the city's plans to have more people living downtown, referred to as in-fill housing, helping the business district and conserving ag land. But there is one hitch. Off-street parking is not available at the site and the requested project needs 11 parking spaces per Municipal Code. This is fine if the applicant pays the city $22,000 or 50 percent of the cost to develop 11 spaces.
The other part of the deal to get approval for the apartments, is the applicant must create a pedestrian paseo at the rear of the building, to allow residents access to existing parking areas and "create a more livable atmosphere for both tenants and citizens utilizing that area."
A letter from Dennis Hylton expressed concern about parking, especially as it related to the Small Business Incubator next door.
Zigler noted that there are 641 parking spaces downtown, a "sizable quantity of parking."
Townsend said tenants were not going to park in front of businesses. He said renters would be required to park in approved lots, of which there were three options in close proximity.
Mayor Pro Tem Pam Kimball questioned people's willingness to walk from off-site parking lots to the apartments.
"In Lindsay we're so used to parking right in front of the door . . . but the biggest thing is to take care of that building and get some housing and people downtown," Mayor Murray said.
Councilmembers Danny Salinas and Steve Velasquez said it was a lot to ask the applicant to upgrade the entire alleyway. Townsend said the city was providing some financial assistance.
"We want people to feel very comfortable walking down that alley," he said.
"I still don't agree on placing the burden on the applicant for the whole thing," Velasquez responded. "He wants to get the project going so has a vested interest in not rocking the boat. It's pretty elaborate and we were going to do it anyway." He said it needs to be equitable for all businesses on alleyways.
"You've got a point," Kimball agreed. But she said the city was taking on a disproportionate share of the parking issue.
Townsend said. He said the city is asking $22,000 for parking that may cost $100,000 to create. "There will be some inconvenience at times," he added.
When it seemed no agreement would be met, the applicant, Refugio Rios, jumped into the fray.
"We know there is going to be a cost," he said. "We're literally tying ourselves up for 30 years. We feel in the long run that $22,000 is a pittance. I don't think parking at a distance is a problem." Rios said it was definitely going to be more crowded. "I feel renters will know they are living above a commercial space and will have to accommodate noise as well as parking."
The owner of the Orange Bar expressed concern that if the commercial district became residential they would have complaints about music and noise from the bars and restaurants.
"If you move next to a dairy you know there will be flies," the mayor said.
Resolution 04-31, approving Conditional Use Permit 04-22, a request by Refugio Rios to create a six-unit multi-family housing complex on the second floor of El Patio passed unanimously. Councilmembers agreed that discussions about inadequate parking was a good problem. "I think it's a great issue that we're debating parking downtown," Velasquez said.