BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Monday night brought the latest in the legal battle delaying the groundbreaking of Bakersfield’s new Veterans Affairs clinic.
The city Planning Commission met for a special meeting to discuss the latest appeal in the five-years-and-counting legal tug-of-war between Cardinal Equities, the landowners of the current V.A. clinic, and SASD Development Group, the entity trying to build the new one.
Commissioners voted unanimously to move along the project and deny the appeal by Cardinal Equities.
Progress for Bakersfield Veterans LLC has been established by Cardinal Equities amid this dispute and has been challenging SASD Development Group on both legal and environmental grounds.
According to SASD’s attorneys, P.B.V. has filed appeal after appeal and lost all those cases.
Yet, on Sept. 15, the group filed two more — one of the city’s Site Plan Review of the clinic, which is what was discussed Monday night, and another of the certification of the city’s Environmental Impact Report.
During the meeting, Planning Commissioner Larry Koman said, “Well, here we are again with the same project.”
This, a sentiment reflective of the exhaustion some community members say they feel, as the delay drags on.
Koman expressed he has and still does fully support the new clinic, adding, “I’m bothered by the Project for Bakersfield Veterans’ because I don’t believe they represent any veterans. I think they represent the property owner that currently that has the current clinic.”
P.B.V. based its Site Plan Review appeal on an improper city zoning permit. The new clinic would be in the city’s M-2 or General Manufacturing Zone.
“The way Bakersfield uses its nesting zoning concept, anything that’s used in the C-0, C-1, C-2, M-1 is considered a permitted use in the M-2 Zone,” explained Bakersfield Planning Director Paul Johnson during his meeting presentation.
That includes some of the primary and specialty care the new clinic would offer, such as dental, hearing, vision, mental health and more.
But P.B.V. said because the clinic would treat certain types of patients, like those with contagious diseases or suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, it must obtain a conditional use permit in the M-1 Zone.
Johnson countered this argument: “The applicant is likely referring to the use shown on the left of the pyramid, which requires a conditional use permit in the M-1 Zone. So, the proposed [clinic] is an out-patient clinic and not intended for extended stays, unlike hospitals or sanitariums.”
Johnson emphasized a CUP is unnecessary because there are no overnight stays. The clinic would be open weekdays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. He also noted the current V.A. clinic is in a M-1 Zone without a CUP and that at least ten out-patient care suites are in the city’s M-1 and M-2 zones already, again, without a CUP.
Johnson told 17 News P.B.V.’s law firm submitted additional comments on their appeal late in the afternoon, barely two hours before the special meeting started.
It is unclear if anyone from P.B.V. or Cardinal Equities was present, as was the case in the Planning Commission’s September meeting on the clinic.
The note mentioned ten “bases for appeal of the Site Plan Review,” ranging from concerns over the clinic’s proximity to the Meadows Field Airport, to a lack of evidence on the Site Plan.
Johnson clarified distance from the airport does not pose any safety hazards for those living or working in the area.
On the proper review of the Site Plan, Johnson said all seven departments included in the city’s Site Plan Review Committee review and signed off on the project plan. He told 17 News Cardinal will likely appeal the Planning Commission’s rejection, which they can, within ten days of the decision.
Critics have long accused Cardinal Equities’ owner Peter Cohen of delaying construction for profit. Cardinal allegedly receives between $200,000 to $400,000 a month renting out the current clinic site on Westwind.
17 News has been reaching out to Cohen since early September for comment but has not heard back. We also did not hear back from the group’s attorneys at Channel Law Group, LLP.
If P.B.V. appeals this rejection, both that and the E.I.R. appeal will be heard by City Council, which is the highest local body an appeal can be filed with.
If there’s no resolution at this level, then it goes to the courts.