Visalia banks on wall-to-wall safety for new credit union

A man at a bank drive-thru ATM machine pressing on the keypad buttons next to the ATM’s screen.(Raisa Nastukova on AdobeStock)

Amid the approval of plans to construct a new Tulare County Federal Credit Union with a drive-thru ATM, the Visalia Planning Commission was met with a request that highlights past mistakes

VISALIA – An automated drive thru ATM may be heading to north Visalia as plans for a new Tulare County Federal Credit Union makes its way through the city’s planning commission. Although the project’s initial plans unanimously passed through the commission, the proposal still has a few more walls to climb before construction can begin.

During their regular public meeting on Nov. 13, Visalia’s planning commission was presented with plans for a new credit union which notably features a drive-thru ATM that won’t require the assistance of an attendant. While the presentation was brief, the proposed plan sparked a lengthy conversation, aimed not at the ATM, but the residential zone north of it.

Just before the meeting, city staff received an email from the property owners of the duplexes adjacent to the site, requesting that the planning commission consider the installation of a block wall “be conditioned with the project between the two uses.” This is because the city’s master plan originally considered the site to be a restaurant, according to Josh Dan, Visalia’s senior planner.

“When (the conditional use permit for the duplexes) was presented to staff at Site Plan Review, staff initially had requested a block wall be built,” he said. “The designer for the applicant had a design feature of a green wall, which is fencing with vines, which we were agreeable to, and carried over and condition of approval for those duplexes.”

Now, due to the addition of the bank’s drive thru ATM, representatives from the complex to the north are hoping the commission will consider adding the implementation of a 6-foot block wall, in accordance to city standards, between the residential units and the bank as part of the site’s plan.

“We’re excited to see development occur to the south of us,” said a representative of the duplexes. “Our only concern is that drive thru that’s now being proposed and the idling (or cars) right next to the backyards of the residents – there’s a little bit of a safety concern.”

The commission went on to ask the representative how far along the wall had come, and were met with the response that “it is 25% filled in (and) the foliage is still less than a year old.” Commission member Hansen wondered if the duplexes were willing to pay for half of the new block wall. While the representative wasn’t given the ability to answer, the project’s civil engineer thought that would be agreeable.

“I think half-cost is fair since they didn’t want to put it in the first time,” said Ben Collins of Collins engineering. “The credit union is interested in being a good neighbor in their community-based organizations, so they wouldn’t oppose putting a block wall in if it’s necessary.”

Regardless of who provided the funds, the commission ultimately felt the addition of a block wall would be best; however, due to the grading of both lots, they worried that it may not be as effective as residents would hope.

“I would be interested in hearing from the staff (on the way that) we should regularly word when we say ‘6-foot block wall’,” said commissioner Peck, alluding to the fact that a “6-foot block wall” can mean different things depending on the grade of the separated lots.

An example of this lack of clarification was seen during the construction of a block wall between Dutch Bros and homes belonging to the Beverly Glen neighborhood, which failed to take “into account the foundation for the business being raised three feet to address flood plain issues,” according to a past article by The Sun-Gazette.

This oversight essentially made the wall 5-feet tall, which residents felt was not high enough to create an effective noise and light barrier. 

In order to avoid a similar issue occurring once the bank finishes construction, staff recommended that the commission include specific wording in their motion, should they make one, to ensure the proposed block wall will be tall enough to mitigate disturbances.

“When you make the motion, we ask that you include the wall requirement as per city standards, which gives us that latitude between a 6-foot-8 to 7-foot-2 wall,” said Paul Bernal, Visalia’s director of community development. “And then (to ensure) clarification, we could say…’due to elevation rates, one side of the wall may be higher than the city standard’.”

After Bernal’s remarks and a final brief discussion, a motion for the project’s approval, along with the implementation of a block wall with the aforementioned clarifications, was made by commissioner Hansen and approved 5-0.

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