HANFORD – A crowd of Hanford residents filled City Council chambers this week to demand the city keep a city-owned vacant parcel next to Hidden Valley Park and develop it into parkland or park-related facilities.

The comments came during a public hearing on a proposed overhaul of the city's general plan and zoning ordinance.

The general plan is the document covering growth policies and land-use decisions in the city. The zoning ordinances are specific rules based on policies in the general plan.

Part of the proposed overhaul, which is part of a document stretching to hundreds of pages, would rezone the vacant 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park as "low-density residential" rather than the "public facilities" zoning designation it currently has.

According to the city's municipal code, the public facilities zone includes "schools, community parks, storm drainage basins and other property owned by the city."

Rezoning the land to low-density residential would open up the possibility of selling the city-owned property, which has sat vacant for more than 40 years.

The sale has been suggested as a way to generate revenue for the city that could be used to restore the Bastille, fix up the Old Courthouse building in Civic Park, develop other recreation facilities or use the money for some other public purpose, such as adding a fire station to Hanford.

It was the possibility of the land being sold that drew criticism from the overwhelming majority of people who spoke during the public hearing Tuesday night.

Twenty five people spoke against the proposed zoning change for the land.

Only one Hanford resident, Judy Scott, said the city should sell the land and use the proceeds for something else.

"I think the city has plenty of parks," she said. "We haven't used that land in 35 years. Sell it. Get on with it. Do something with it."

Scott suggested the money could be used to develop an indoor recreation facility or pay for needed upgrades to the Old Courthouse.

Scott got a smattering of applause after she finished speaking.

But by far the most clapping was reserved for the 25 Hanford residents who said they want the vacant acreage to either become an extension to Hidden Valley Park or to be kept for some other use, such as an agricultural demonstration project.

Mark Pratter, who lives near the parcel, said the issue is "critical to our future" and that selling the land wouldn't "meet the needs of the community."

The vacant land is bordered by railroad tracks on the west, housing tracts to the north and south and Hidden Valley Park to the east.

People's Ditch, an irrigation canal delivering water to other parts of Kings County, runs north-south between the vacant land and the park.

Pratter referred to the vacant land as "precious land that belongs to our kids."

Hanford resident Mickey Stoddard, a former supervisor in the Hanford Parks and Recreation Department, said public testimony at previous council meetings has been overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the land "for future development of Hidden Valley Park."

The park opened in 1977.

"Previous city councils, they voted to save the property," Stoddard said.

"If we would come as a community, we could work that section of the land and develop it," said Pam Johnson.

"You have brought about this public outcry [on] yourselves," Rob Bentley told council members David Ayers, Martin Devine, Francisco Ramirez and Justin Mendes. "I think that pile of dirt can be something very special."

Councilwoman and Vice-Mayor Sue Sorensen was absent.

"It would be nice to have an extended park," said Ryan Evans. "It would be good for the future of our community."

Earlier in the meeting, responding to a question from Mendes about the city's policy regarding the amount of park space, Community Development Director Darlene Mata said current policies "call for more community parks."

Mata said the parks would be added to new housing developments as they come on line. Impact fees collected from developers would be used to pay for the new parks.

"We will continue to provide additional park space," she said.

Mata said the vacant parcel is not "currently calculated as part of our developed park area."

After hearing public comments, the council members didn't make a decision on whether to approve the proposed changes.

The matter was continued to a special meeting scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m.

The reporter can be reached at snidever@hanfordsentinel.com or 583-2432. 

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