Laborers of the Harvest needs more room and they found it on 300 block of Center. But committee asks city to not to allow it
The Taft Planning Commission is going to wait a month before making a potentially controversial decision about allowing a food bank to relocate to the downtown area.
Laborers of the Harvest is seeking either an amendment to the downtown commercial area or a conditional use permit to allow it to relocate its food bank on the 300 block of Center Street.
But downtown businesses oppose the move.
The Taft Chamber of Commerce's Downtown Committee even sent the Planning Commission a letter urging it to turn down the request.
“It is the opinion of the Downtown Committee that these uses will have an adverse impact upon the other uses in these districts and are detrimental to downtown investment, redevelopment, and retail opportunity,” the letter said. “Increased foot traffic and parking use unrelated to retail transactions and the potential for loitering and littering in the most central area of our City are among the concerns of the Downtown Committee with regard to this ordinance change.”
The letter said the committee also opposes issuing a conditional use permit to the food bank.
The commission will make a recommendation to the Taft City Council, which will ultimately decide if the food bank will be opening downtown.
On Tuesday, the City Council approved a fee waiver for the Laborers because it is a nonprofit.
Wednesday, after a 20-minute public hearing and then discussion among the four planning commissioners present, Commission Chairman Curtis Walchock requested a delay in the discussion and vote until next month.
On Wednesday, supporters of the food bank said they were a little dismayed at the opposition.
“I don't know why the Chamber is against us,” said Bill LaBarron. “It's one of those necessities. If we didn't have it given to us, we couldn't afford it.”
“I think the downtown business people don't have big hearts,” he added.
Laborers has outgrown the 1,800 square-foot building at 201-1/2 Harrison and needs the extra room the 3,800 square feet the Center Street location will give provide.
Currently, people line up outside on Harrison Street each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to receive canned and sometimes frozen food.
It's a tough economy and the need for families is growing
“We've outgrown where we are now,” Laborers President Mike Long said.
“We can put more people inside,” said Dennis Craft. “They won't have to stand outside.”
Craft and Long pointed out the food bank is only open for two hours on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Food will not be cooked or prepared on site, Long said.
Laborers of the Harvest serves 250 families per week on average.
The property Laborers acquired is three offices located between 315 and 317 Center St.
Long said the property was donated to the food bank on the condition that it be used for nonprofit activities.
He declined to identify the donor. Escrow should close next week, he said.
Chamber Executive Director Kathy Orrin was directed by the committee to read the letter. She emphasized the Chamber fully supports the work laborers does but doesn't feel locating a food bank downtown is appropriate and could establish a precedent.
“I totally appreciate the hard work these people do,” she said. “I know it comes from the heart. It is an issue of location.”
She said one unidentified business on the same block has expressed fears that his property values will go down.
Amending the zone ordinance will have broad effect, said City Redevelopment Director Paul Gorte.
“You are changing the text of the zoning ordinance and it does have an effect on every property in that district,” Gorte told the commission.
That is the concern that the Chamber has.
“We are changing forever the potential for retail business up and down Center Street,” Orrin said. “The concern is what could be in the future as a result.”
But Long said there are few businesses in the immediate area and most of that block is vacant.
“I don't see where we would impact anybody down there,” he said. “It's like a ghost town down there now.”
Commissioners also have the option of allowing the food bank in under a conditional use permit, but that could also allow other food banks to locate in the downtown area if they meet conditions.
The commissioners expressed differing opinions.
Jesse Barron said he supports it.
“Putting a food bank downtown is probably a pretty good idea,” Barron said.
James Fleetwood agreed, saying the increased foot traffic might help other downtown businesses.
Sean Sutherland said he is concerned about a change that could lead to more food banks locating downtown.
“We don't want them to be everywhere,” he said. “One seems to be alright, but we don't want them to pop up everywhere.”
Commissioner Robert Thompson was absent.
Walchock said he wants to have all five commissioners make the call.
“I think the importance of this requires all the commissioners,” he said. “This is a big decision here and I'd like to get it right.”