OXNARD — Two groups of nuns-turned-developers went before the City Council on Tuesday and went away successful.
The City Council Tuesday night approved proposals by two Catholic orders to build a convent and a separate low-cost housing development in the city's most historic neighborhood, voting 3-0 on both projects. Mayor Manuel Lopez and Councilman Bedford Pinkard were absent.
The Sister Servants of Mary received permission to build a 42,000-square-foot convent on G Street, and Mercy Charities, a nonprofit group founded by the Sisters of Mercy, was permitted to build a 64-unit townhouse development and a 41-unit apartment complex at Hobson Way and 5th Street.
Council members said that both developments were of exceptional design quality and would fill vacant lots that had become eyesores, bringing life back into a fading Oxnard neighborhood that was once home to the city's pioneer families.
"I'm a neighbor there, and like a lot of the neighbors, I had concerns about the project at first," Councilman Tom Holden said. "But I changed my mind."
The convent, which will house 45 nuns, has received support from residents who say the development would erase blight and provide them with good neighbors.
But the nearby low-cost housing project has been lambasted by numerous residents, who say it would lead to increased crime and traffic on their streets.
The housing project will exceed the density permitted in Oxnard's growth blueprint, known as the 2020 General Plan, by 31 units, so the City Council had to grant Mercy Charities special permission to build. At the developer's request, the City Council also agreed to waive the Oxnard parking requirements that would normally apply to such a project.
The Oxnard Redevelopment Agency has agreed to contribute about $1.2 million in long-term loans to the housing project, which is expected to cost $16 million. More than half of the funding is expected to come from federal grants and tax credits.
Mercy Charities Housing California, a nonprofit San Francisco-based builder of housing for low-income residents, said it chose Oxnard for its latest project because the area lacks sufficient housing for the poor.
Two Mediterranean-style complexes--an apartment building for seniors and a section of two- to four-bedroom townhomes for families with incomes as low as $11,000--will be built around a courtyard on the 4.1-acre site of the former Channel Islands Hospital and Swift Hospital.
Responding to residents' concerns, Mercy Charities has agreed to incorporate the existing Swift Hospital building, which is now used for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, into the development.
The housing agency expects to begin the townhouse project in January, and the apartments next fall.
The Sister Servants of Mary were looking to build a new home after winning a legal battle with the operators of the Bailard Landfill last year.
The Catholic nuns, who won a $500,000 settlement with the landfill operator, have to move after 34 years from their existing convent on Victoria Avenue, which is about 500 feet from the dump.
The order had complained for years that the landfill was emitting foul-smelling fumes and dust that endangered the nuns' health. After operation of Bailard Landfill was extended through the summer of 1996, the nuns threatened to sue, and the dump's operator agreed to pay to help them relocate.
The order's new two-story convent will include a chapel, classrooms and living quarters. Nine single-family residences, to be sold at market rates, will also be built on the 4.6-acre site.