Unless the developer who proposed dorms at the site files an appeal — and there's still no sign he will — it may soon be time to revisit the decades-old question of what should be built on the last piece of vacant land at the busiest intersection in Bakersfield.
The northeast corner of Coffee Road and Stockdale Highway, across from Trader Joe's, poses a substantial opportunity for whatever type of development eventually goes in there. It's situated in a desirable neighborhood near Cal State Bakersfield along two main thoroughfares.
The roughly 6.5-acre property has been designated a professional and administrative office zone, meaning the city officially would prefer it become home to professional office-type uses, something like a bank, a doctor's office, a church, a pharmacy, a post office, a day-care nursery — maybe even a fortune-telling business.
But practically speaking, it doesn't have to be any of those things, so long as city officials give the nod. That's why Monterey-based Coleraine Capital Group Inc. was able to propose building twin, five-story student dorms at the property: President David Moon thought he could persuade the city to let him override the property's zoning and instead build residential buildings at the site.
His plan fell Tuesday in the face of overwhelming opposition by nearby residents, who took issue with the potential for traffic, safety and privacy disruptions, among other concerns. Moon may still challenge the city Board of Zoning Adjustment's 3-0 vote of denial. He said by email Wednesday he has not decided whether to appeal the decision to the City Council.
Until Moon came along, the property was thought to be the future home of offices, professional or medical. Bakersfield developer Greg Bynum said Wednesday that may still be its "highest and best use."
He noted a developer can put in offices at the site without asking special permission. But he acknowledged that, in light of Coleraine's experience, it might be a good idea to win over neighbors first. And he figures offices would fit in well.
"I think office and medical-professional (offices) can be good neighbors because they work normal business hours and the traffic is normal," he said.
On the other hand, Bakersfield commercial real estate broker Anthony Olivieri is thinking a mix of uses might work better: office plus retail plus restaurant. Or maybe not.
"It's not necessarily an easy answer," he said, adding that there has been consistent commercial interest in that intersection over the years.
Offices aren't a sure thing, he said, because there's question as to how much market demand there is for them. Doctors may still be searching for office space to rent or buy, but depending on the size they need, other office users may have enough available options locally, Olivieri said.
What makes the mixed-use idea enticing is its potential to combine different tenants' strengths to create new energy, he said. Assuming the city and nearby residents don't object too strongly, that is.
Olivieri said a restaurant developer would love to get onto that site. A large store probably wouldn't work there, he said, but small shops might. And office tenants could complement other tenants nicely.
"It's the type of real estate that, unlike other properties or areas within Bakersfield, that's a corner where you could probably pull together those uses and create some real harmony among them," he said.
But would the city grant a mixed-use developer that kind of flexibility? Bynum said that's a key consideration.
He noted the city has already stretched the area's zoning to accommodate a development immediately to the north. It, too, is zoned for professional and administrative office uses, but in December 2015, the zoning board approved a conditional use permit allowing construction of a hotel, a gas station with convenience store and an office building at the site. A series of fast-casual restaurants have also been built there.
"I think their (city officials') flexibility kind of ended there," Bynum said.
Bakersfield's development services director, Jacqui Kitchen, noted by email Wednesday both properties at the intersection's northeast corner were previously set aside for residential uses. That changed when, in 2012, the property owner began the process of having it rezoned for commercial uses.
"Since that time, the other portions of the site have been developed accordingly, and the plan in 2015 was to develop this last piece with an office building," she wrote.
Kitchen was a bit vague on what she thinks should be built there.
"Given that the remainder of the site has now been developed with commercial uses," she wrote, "it would be logical to finish the remaining piece with development that complements the existing uses in the area."