HANFORD — There was standing room only in the Hanford City Council Chambers Monday night as the council made decisions on updating the city’s general plan and zoning ordinances during a special meeting.
The general plan is a document covering growth policies and land-use decisions in the city and the zoning ordinances are specific rules based on policies in the general plan.
Two of the most controversial parts of the proposed changes deal with 18 acres the city owns west of Hidden Valley and zoning that would allow businesses that had been limited to the downtown to locate elsewhere in the city.
The rezoning of the 18 acres west of Hidden Valley Park would change the area from "public facilities" to "low-density residential," a move that could open the area to development if the city chooses to sell it.
Around 25 Hanford residents attended council’s regular meeting on April 18 to demand the city keep the city-owned vacant parcel next to Hidden Valley Park and develop it into parkland or park-related facilities.
While council members were giving their thoughts on the issues before them Monday night, Councilman Justin Mendes said he did not believe Hanford needs a 40-acre park. He said because Hidden Valley is the nicest park in town, it does not need to be expanded and any park money the city has should be used to improve other parks in the city.
“Hidden Valley Park is not going away, it is not in danger, it is not being sold,” Mendes said. “It is the best park in town. It would serve the entire community better if there was a 20-acre park of Hidden Valley’s caliber in every quadrant of the city.”
Mendes said if the land were to be sold in the future, money could also go toward an indoor recreational facility. He said he knows many Hanford residents who take their kids to indoor recreational opportunities in Lemoore, and he thinks there should be one in Hanford to have during hot summer months.
Mendes said while the rally Hanford resident Nathan Odom held Sunday to “save Hidden Valley Park” was enjoyable, he did not see enough participation to merit changing his stance on the zoning overhaul.
Councilmember Francisco Ramirez said he doesn't want to sell the land, but there’s no funding right now to expand it either. He said it was the council’s job to make sure the general plan was approved to make the right decisions for the city.
Mayor David Ayers said he was in favor of changing the land's zoning, but not in favor of possibly selling it. He said he would like to see Rogers Road extended north to Cortner Street, develop the land west of Rogers Road and expand the park on the east of the road to make it better and safer.
“Again, funding is going to be the issue. We’re going to have to find the funding,” Ayers said, adding that selling part of the land would help bring money to fix other city parks.
In the end, Ayers, Mendes, Ramirez and Councilmember Martin Devine voted 4-0, with Vice-Mayor Sue Sorensen absent, to update the general plan. Council also approved 4-0 to update the city’s zoning ordinance and zone map.
The general plan and zoning updates were approved as city staff recommended, with the exception of keeping medical, dental and optometry ancillary services or professional or commercial offices in the downtown. Meaning, for example, there can still be no optometrist located in Wal-Mart or Costco.
The new zoning ordinance also keeps another downtown-oriented policy in place involving banks. Banks operating in Hanford will be able to locate a secondary branch in areas outside of downtown, but their main branch still has to be downtown.
In his closing comments, Ramirez told Odom that he did a great job of bringing people together in an effort to expand Hidden Valley Park and told him to instead try to visit other community parks and gardens that are underused.
“I think we’re going to save our park instead, thank you,” Odom replied to Ramirez.
As the meeting ended, many people who attended in support of expanding the park could be heard saying the issue was “not over.”