A vocal cadre of Elmhurst residents are fighting to keep a local real estate agent from opening shop in the area, fearing his office could lead to more businesses in a single-home enclave already affected by nearby UC Davis Medical Center.
The building at the heart of the controversy is a single-story, mint-green duplex at V and 51st streets. Last spring, real estate agent Rich Cazneaux bought the 1,500-square-foot cottage with the intent of rehabbing it, using half as a residential rental and half for his business. It’s surrounded by homes, but a neighborhood market sits across the street and the medical center looms at the end of the block.
Cazneaux won approval recently from the Sacramento planning department to open a realty office in a 733-square-foot portion of the building, which has a history of home-based business uses, most recently as a workspace for the seamstress he purchased it from, he said. He’d have two employees, one full time, and expects up to six clients a month to visit. It would be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and closed weekends, and has its own off-street parking.
Next week, the Sacramento City Council will vote on whether to give the final go-ahead. A half-dozen Elmhurst residents turned out at last week’s council meeting to ask the city for a “no” vote.
“It would undermine the residential nature of the neighborhood,” said Maggie Coulter, one of the main organizers behind the effort to stop the rezoning. On Wednesday, Coulter was dropping off a “Keep Elmhurst Residential” sign at the house across the street from Cazneaux’s property. Coulter said she opposes the project because she wants to protect the warren of narrow streets with their small bungalows, and she fears this project could set a bad precedent.
“It opens us up to the possibility of more rezoning in our neighborhood,” said Stefani Robinson, who lives about a block away and also attended Tuesday’s council meeting. “I don’t see how that benefits the neighborhood.”
Cazneaux said he reached out to the local neighborhood association and the city prior to his purchase. He said he knew the property would need to be rezoned, but didn’t think there would be opposition to what he views as a business with minimal impact in a spot that has housed commercial enterprises before.
“I tried to do this all above board because I obviously didn’t want to have challenges,” Cazneaux said. “We want to be embraced by the community.”
Opponents said that in addition to being out of place among the single-family homes, the office could add to traffic and parking woes.
Eugene Dass owns Cottage Mart, the corner store across the street from the site. The market has “grandfather” zoning status with the city, Dass said. Although the property is zoned residential, he can operate or sell it as a store. No other business is allowed.
Dass said he doesn’t want the Cazneaux property to turn into office space because he’s worried it will make it harder for his delivery drivers and customers. He pointed to a steady stream of cars on 51st Street.
“It’s busy as it is,” Dass said. “UC Davis is like a freeway here.”
A traffic study conducted by the city found that 51st Street, a narrow roadway with parking on both sides, had more than 3,000 cars pass on the block between U and V streets on a normal weekday, many of them likely belonging to medical center employees. The road can accommodate up to 4,500 vehicles a day, according to the city report.
Councilman Eric Guerra, who represents Elmhurst, said he doesn’t think a commercial rezone would be appropriate, but he hopes he can broker a compromise.
“I do believe it’s important to ensure we preserve and protect the character of the neighborhood,” Guerra said. “But I do believe there is a way to address the residents’ concerns and what the property owner wants to do.”
Cazneaux said he’s open to ideas.
He said he’s willing to forgo the commercial rezone and accept a lesser designation that would allow a home-based office with restrictions. He said he’d also agree to city suggestions that the office be limited to 733 square feet in perpetuity so that the entire building could never be used as commercial space, and a further restriction that it can’t be converted to a medical facility.
But Coulter said, “That is not acceptable because it does not take care of the problem.”
She fears that the rental unit could be converted to commercial space down the line. She’s also concerned that if Cazneaux moves out, another kind of business could move in with longer hours and more employees and customers. If the project isn’t stopped, she’d like to see more restrictions.
Cazneaux said he hears the concern.
“We have put a lot of care and thought into this, and we are willing to adjust … to make the neighborhood feel comfortable,” Cazneaux said. “We’re working toward a solution that takes those fears away of what it can be later on.”