Los Banos planners OK complex for seniors

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comMay 23, 2013 

An affordable housing project for senior citizens was recommended to the City Council on Wednesday despite the trepidations of some planning commissioners who criticized the project as too costly and having the potential to attract outsiders.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of Overland Courts by a 4-1 vote. The project is a 70-unit apartment complex for those 55 and older proposed on 4.77 acres in the northwest corner of Overland Avenue and Rockport Drive.

Tenants will have an earnings cap to be accepted. They can earn 35 percent to 65 percent of $43,945, the median annual income in Merced County.

Westlake Village-based Willow Partners LLC wants to use $2.5 million federal Home Investment Program dollars for the project. Another $7 million is expected through tax credits, and a loan of $1.5 million would make up the rest. The city would not be responsible for providing money. Los Banos staff would act as administrators of the loan and make quarterly and annual reports on the financial status of the project.

"I do have a problem with the financials," said Commissioner Arkady Faktorovich. "I'm concerned about this loan deal. Even though the city is not going to be involved, we have a perpetual debt situation. This project is going to be in the red for the duration of its existence."

Commissioner Tom Mello said he's concerned about the zone change for the project. The land is zoned highway commercial, and a zoning change to medium density residential is required for the project. Mello said the area may be best suited for businesses.

Mello also voiced a concern that the complex will attract applicants from outside of Los Banos. Robert Davidson, the project's architect, said he doesn't believe that will happen.

"Very few people have the means to drop into town. Everything we do is for locals," Davidson said.

Mello said he has a philosophical objection to the way the project will be financed and overseen.

"I've never been thrilled about government projects. I just have trouble dealing with government projects ... you seem to lose any kind of control over it, who can be in it," Mello said.

He said he likes the design of the project and is willing to put his opposition aside since it benefits senior citizens.

Faktorovich disagreed.

"I cannot support this kind of stuff," he said. "We have apartments for sale that can be rehabbed with the same program for a fraction of the cost I'm seeing here. We have buildings that stay vacant, we have 18 percent unemployment. We are up to the yin-yang in debt, and we are about to go for a project that will put us more in debt."

Faktorovich was the lone vote against the project. The City Council will likely decide next month if the senior complex gets approved.

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