Concerned residents crowded into City Hall on Wednesday evening for the March 6 Planning Commission meeting to express their issue with the proposed plan by builder Richard DePonte to build 79 more homes within a gated subdivision via an extension of D Street westerly of North Stearns Road.
The proposed development would allow for improvements that include a storm drain basin, a lot dedicated for park and recreational amenities on a 41.19-acre property located within the adopted East F Street Corridor Specific Plan Area.
Residents in the area affected by the proposed expansion expressed grave concerns — bottlenecked traffic, inadequate road signage and increased dangerous road conditions — which would only be exacerbated by an increase of more homes.
In addition, many residents who purchased Tesoro Phase I homes in the Bel-Sera subdivision, were assured that the D Street expansion would alleviate any traffic concerns that building Tesoro Phase I would create in the area.
Now, years later, the same promise is being made as plans are going forward to build Tesoro Phase II and residents are gun-shy about the validity of the builder’s promise.
Arlene Jones, a retired Oakdale teacher, took to the podium to hold the commission’s feet to the fire.
“In all good conscience, how could this have been approved Phase I and now Phase II before the traffic issue was addressed? We have got Tesoro Bel-Sera, the park, the Country Club, the gun club, the baseball kids down at the park, all coming and going in and out of Stearns. Our issue is safety, safety, safety. It is a safety issue. Why has this not been addressed at the very beginning is beyond me.”
A year ago, a group of concerned citizens managed to collect 1,400 signatures regarding the traffic issue within two weeks.
“Something has to be done so that we are not sitting ducks,” Jones said. “I can’t get home when there’s accidents at 10-11 p.m. at night and now they’re talking about putting in 79 new homes in this new development?”
Oakdale City Manager Brian Whitemyer understood Jones’ frustration and was ready to explain how the process would play out in the hopes of alleviating some of the residents’ most grave concerns.
“We appreciate the concerns related to safety and safety is our top priority in this case … Will any of the homes be occupied before D Street is built? The answer is no.”
Whitemyer continued, saying, “I live in this community, my family travels Stearns to Kerr Park and we’ve seen the issues. So we will continue to work on that.”
To further clarify, Whitemyer said the developer cannot sell a single home until D Street is complete.
To that promise, Julia Haidlen rose to remind Whitemyer that the residents have already heard that promise and it wasn’t honored the first time around.
Representing the developer, Bill Kull of Giuliani & Kull Inc., was able to provide an answer to that troubling question as to why D Street wasn’t completed as promised back when Tesoro Phase I was finished.
The short answer: when Redevelopment Agency funds went away, the D Street expansion was gutted due to lack of funds because the economy was tanking everywhere.
But Whitemyer was fairly clear on the future of D Street if this project doesn’t go through: not any time soon.
“We either support that effort and let the development happen or not support it and the development doesn’t happen and I can’t tell you when D Street is going to happen … it’s going to be decades and decades before we’d be able to accumulate the funds to make it happen,” Whitemyer said.
But the upside, Whitemyer reminded the residents, is that once the development is finished, it will raise the value of that area.
“This will be a nice addition to the community,” he said. “There’s nothing like this that I’m aware … this will be a sought-after area that goes along with the country club atmosphere that you have out there, so this fits right with what you want to see, that will raise the values of your homes, that will raise the value of that area.”
The planning commission voted unanimously to pass the motion to send it to City Council for approval.