With Bishop’s housing problems escalating into staffing problems, Aaron Schat presented a potential solution, or at least a partial solution, to the city’s conundrum—convert Sterling Heights, the former assisted living facility on Pine Street, to a 69-unit apartment building.
The concept itself wasn’t under scrutiny. What to do with the vehicles of those inhabiting the newly-named Sterling Studios was the topic of debate at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
The conditional use permit was approved 4-2, allowing the project to go forward with a parking ratio of 1:1, rather than the current 2:1 ratio required by the zoning. The project had support from Northern Inyo Hospital and the Toiyabe Indian Health Project, both of whom employ health care “travelers” who can’t find a place to live.
Schat’s plans included walls and landscaping to shield the parking area. The public areas in the building, including the commercial kitchen, would be maintained and available to tenants. In response to a question of limiting occupancy to single adults, Schat said it would be “set up like Mammoth Mountain’s employee housing with employees directed to the facility.”
As is, the facility has parking for 39 vehicles in an existing area under the building. Schat’s plan would add another 36 spots behind the single-family residence, which Schat also purchased, to the west of Sterling Heights. Four additional spaces would be allocated within the City-owned alleyway. The proposed parking area would be accessed by that alley-way. That access would be designated as one-way, with a second, similar, alley way on the east side of the facility as the parking exit.
So, what’s the problem? Those alleys have traditionally been used to access City Park to the north of the site. So, little-used “roads” currently used by pedestrians would now have traffic.
Apparently, there is not much in the books to cover the plan. As attorney Russel Hildebrand explained “this is a re-use of a non-conforming use.” In addition, there’s a state-wide push for more housing. “The hospital is absorbing rentals as they come available for travelers,” said Kelli Davis, NIHD’s chief executive officer. “We have to think outside the box.”
During the Commission discussion, Erik Leitch expressed concern with parking in the alley ways and providing housing that suits the neighborhood. He asked if Schat considered demolishing the house to increase the number of designated parking spots and getting the four cars out of the alley-way. “It’s a half-a-million house,” Schat said. “I’d rather not demolish it.” That statement pretty much sums up affordable housing issues in Inyo County.
While Leitch pushed for a different configuration, a motion consistent with the staff recommendation to reduce the parking to dwelling unit ration to 1:1 was made and approved.