Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Taking a different look at Willows

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Willows – Walking downtown on Sycamore, the average visitor or newcomer will see what’s in front of their eyes.

A run-down, decrepit old movie theater. An empty lot. A shuttered dollar store.

But the local real estate crowd sees something different: the ghosts of past plans, projects and possibilities.

Projects that never saw the light of day, at least in Glenn County; projects that died with only paperwork to show; projects that planned to revitalize now-empty buildings.

Many in that group are now organizing to lobby for more development-friendly policies; they certainly do have a financial interest in that.

But, contends real estate agent RaeAnn Titus, so do Willownians at large.

Ms. Titus mentions the building that used to be Daughtery’s department store at xxx and xxx.

“(People have) brought several uses forward for that,” she said. In 2006, “they wanted to put apartment on the top, commercial on the bottom.”

Another time, someone wanted to put a cold storage facility there. “The planning commission turned that down. That was 2006 or 2007.”

The problem?

“The four walls of the building sit on the footprint of what the owners own.” parking lot city owned.

“They are saying that they won’t let the gentlemen put in apartments because they don’t want (people parking off-site).”

“The city keeps saying, just donate it to us. People aren’t in the business of real estate to donate their buildings.”

She mentions another building at Sycamore and Crawford, owned by James Long, but begs off, saying she personally doesn’t know too much.

Fellow real estate agent Vickie Miller explains: someone came and “wanted to purchase the building and found that square footage parking was going to be prohibitive.”

“The gentlemen that was interested in purchasing it wanted to build offices, professional offices, like State Farm, that sort of thing.”

“He decided no, he wasn’t going to do it. He turned around, and left.”

Later, the property was going to have another buyer.

A lobbying effort got the restrictions removed, Ms. Miller recalls, but “there were other circumstances” and the deal there didn’t go through either.

Ms. Titus recalls people who tried to put a laundromat in 2006.

“They were told it wasn’t zoned correctly. But it is.”

“That building is actually sitting in a residential area. Since that building been in commercial use since 1946, it will continue to be grandfathered in until it goes vacant for 6 months.”

When such an inquiry gets turned away, real estate agent Dan Schuller says, an inquiring party will often forget about that particular property.

“They can go through and try to get it rezoned, but that’s a major issue,” Mr. Schuller said. “That is the case, oftentimes. And then people say, ‘well the city turned me down.’”

To Mr. Schuller and Glenn County Title’s Rick Thomas, in attracting development, the city simply isn’t run enough like a business.

Mr. Schuller notes that he often gives city officials a call every Monday morning to make sure they’re proceeding quickly.

Mr. Thomas gives the example of businesses advertising, spending money to make money.

When someone comes to town wanting to develop a vacant building, “the city should say, what can we do to help you fix this eyesore?”

“Instead it was, ‘bring us some plans,’” he charges.

He mentions an idea that’s been proposed recently. When a developer comes to town asking about development, “we should take down their name and phone number, call back in two weeks, and say, ‘how are you doing on that search?’”

Asked about this at a joint planning commission/city council meeting, city manager Steve Holsinger said that he didn’t know of any such directory currently being kept.

Mr. Thomas notes improvements, such as the possible dropping of the requirement of a use permit for signs on the street.

But Mr. Thomas – playing his cards close to the vest, one might say – also recalls a conversation with an outside developer, who he will not name, who tried to build something, unspecified, in either Willows or Orland.

“I will never come back here,” the developer said.

Ms. Titus recalls other projects: thwarted apartment/condominium conversions in Sand Piper Cover; back “in the day” when Kragen Auto Parts tried to build a shop on Wood and Enright (“From what I understand, the ground was zoned for professional offices, but a bunch of people got together and didn’t want it in there,” Mr. Schuller says); a never-built dogwash facility.

“Most any vacant building – if there is a vacant building in Willows, I guarantee you someone has gone to the city, and tried to make it cost-effective,” she charges.

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