State

Planners OK new condo building in downtown Modesto

A plan to bring condos and shopping to downtown Modesto cleared a small hurdle at the Planning Commission on Monday night, but now developers face the bigger challenge of building in a bleak economy.

To help the project stay viable, city staff relaxed the usual deadlines it gives developers. Team Modesto, the group developing the seven-story project at 10th and H streets, will have until 2016 to complete construction.

Team Modesto member Dennis Wilson said now is an ideal time to build, because construction costs are so low. But that's about the only good thing going in today's economy, Wilson noted. Securing loans to finance the project would be difficult, and there's not much market for what Team Modesto is selling.

The development promises for-sale housing, shops, offices and commercial space.

"While it would be a great time to build it, we don't think we'd have a lot of interest in office and retail space in this economy, even downtown," Wilson told the commission.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to recommend that the City Council approve a zoning change developers need to move forward. Commissioner Carolina Bernal was absent. Commissioner Ted Brandvold did not vote on the development because he had a conflict of interest.

City Councilman Garrad Marsh gave the project his stamp of approval during the public hearing. Marsh said the Gallo Center for the Arts and Modesto Centre Plaza had breathed some life into downtown. Team Modesto's development, Marsh said, would provide the piece that's been missing: housing.

"This proposal is vital to our city," Marsh said. "It is smart growth and it is the future of our city."

If built, Team Modesto's project would include 66 units of housing. Sizes would range from studios to three-bedroom apartments. The building's top two floors would be reserved for two-story town houses.

Wilson said it was too early to guess what the price range for the housing would be. Condos would be geared toward downtown workers who could walk to their jobs, Wilson said.

Commissioner John Sanders said he hoped the development would serve as a catalyst for other downtown housing. Another group of developers approached the city in 2007 about building an eight-story condo tower at 14th and J streets, the site of the Mayol and Barringer law office. Developers have until October 2010 to start work on the project.

The planned tower at 10th and H streets would cover 1.29 acres where a parking lot, old bus depot and vacant warehouse sit.

The city's redevelopment agency owns part of the property. Team Modesto plans to acquire that land from the agency, possibly by buying it or leasing it, Wilson said.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378. Follow her at twitter.com/beereporter.

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