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Owner of boarded-up apartments eager to start rehabilitation
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LATHROP - After years of sitting as a blighted neighbor to Lathrop Elementary School, a rundown and legally nonconforming apartment complex on O Street could look forward to a major curb-side makeover with a little help from City Hall.

The Lathrop Planning Commission on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve a city-initiated move to change the land-use designation of the property where the old apartments are located from that of a single-family residential, or low-density housing, to medium-density or apartment complexes. Included in this land-use change are two single-family homes owned by Mantecans John and Lucia Machado. The two houses are located next to the apartment complex.

The purpose of making these land-use changes in the city’s general plan is to encourage property owners in this Historic Lathrop Old Town District to make the necessary improvements on the buildings and get rid of blight.

The owner of the apartment complex, Remedios Mercado of Hayward, told the Planning commissioners that she is willing and anxious to start rehabilitating the buildings and working on the landscaping.

“It’s a key problem for me and I wish you can help me,” Mercado told the commissioners.

She added that she had also “talked to a group of people in the building” about her intention to improve the conditions of the buildings.

The renters Mercado was referring to were those who are occupying two of the seven apartments. The five are empty and have been boarded up by the city for being uninhabitable. Each of the seven apartments consists of four rental units.

The apartment complex is considered an illegal nonconforming property by the city because it doesn’t meet current city standards. The buildings predates the city’s incorporation and were among those grandfathered in when Lathrop became a city in July of 1989.

Senior planner Charlie Mullen said the unoccupied apartment units are considered illegal because they have been vacant for the past six months. The remaining two occupied units fall under the category of legally nonconforming structures “because they are being used,” he explained to the commissioners.

Noting the sincerity of Mercado in eliciting positive changes on her properties, Commission Chairman Bennie Gatto told Mercado, “I’m glad to see you’re taking the initiative (to do the improvements). There’s a need in the city right now for apartment (housing).”

Commissioner Jose Perez noted that the property does not have any landscaping to speak of right now and wanted to know if this will be included in the property rehabilitation that Mercado wants to get started. Mullen said they will work with the apartment owners about curb-side landscaping.

Commissioner Diane Lazard, who was born and raised in Lathrop, just had one comment about the issue: “I feel we’re cleaning up the county’s mess.”

Lathrop was an unincorporated community under San Joaquin County before it became a city when the population stood at around 5,000.

There will not be a timeline given by the city for Mercado to get the rehabilitation job completed. City Attorney Salvador Navarrete explained that since there has been no application submitted for this project, no deadline will be required for the completion of the rehabilitation.

Interviewed after the commission discussion and vote, Mercado said she had been ready to get the work started and sounded upset and disappointed that she can’t get it started right away.