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Gas line prevents promised shrub planting at apts.

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POSTED December 1, 2017 12:29 a.m.

When the Manteca Planning Commission approved the Villa Capri Apartments on the 200 Block of N. Fremont Street, it did so under a condition that the applicant would plant privacy shrubs along the side of the eight-unit complex that borders an existing single-family home.
There’s only one problem — the applicant can’t legally plant anything along that fence line because beneath it is a PG&E gas service line.
That revelation came at the end of the Manteca Planning Commission’s Tuesday night meeting when City of Manteca Planning Manager J.D. Hightower included the information in his closing staff comments, including pictures of the underground utilities within the 5-foot setback between the apartment building and the fence line.
The fact that nobody was notified about the development before the developer went ahead with construction didn’t set well Planning Commission Chairman Eric Hayes.
“It seems frustrating to me that somebody would go ahead with something when they can’t fulfill the condition that has been placed upon them,” Hayes said in his comments. “That seems disingenuous to me.”
Hightower said the reason why the issue wasn’t caught was because the utility overlay wasn’t available at the time that permits were issued for the project, and by the time that it came to the city’s attention — through the compliant process — the building itself was already constructed and there was no way to amend the condition to fulfill the requirement.
While he pledged to make sure that these things don’t happen in the future — “the buck ultimately stops here,” he told the commission — the only way in which that would be possible, he said, would be if the utility overlay was checked when the landscaping overlay was submitted to make sure that there weren’t any conflicting issues.
Another option, he said, would be to pass an amendment to the municipal code that says that residents have some semblance of privacy protection. Doing so, he said, would strengthen the requirements placed by the commission since there would be no need to condition something that is already formally a part of the city’s existing code.
According to PG&E’s website, only low-lying vegetation like grasses, flower beds, mosses and low-lying herbaceous shrubs can be planted over a gas line. Trees, larger shrubs, and plants with a woody stem such as manzanita and juniper bushes should be planted at least 10 feet away from the pipeline, and as much as 14 feet for larger trees — a requirement that doesn’t work with the 5-foot setback featured with the project.
The recently-completed apartment complex, which was built over a pair of vacant lots and a previously-existing house, was hailed as a model “infill” project when it was initially proposed. Owned and operated by NSR Associates — which manages the existing Vista Verde Apartment complex which added 19 additional units as part of an expansion — the new apartment building is expected to open to the public this month, according to its official website.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544. 

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