Modesto planning commissioners Monday didn't try to hide their enthusiasm for a project that could bring the first new housing to the city's downtown in decades.
They unanimously signed off on a zoning change that would allow Huff Construction of Modesto to build an eight-story office and condominium tower at 14th and J streets.
"Hopefully, it'll be the first of other projects like this," Planning Commissioner John Sanders said.
"This project is just outstanding," Commissioner Alita Roberts said.
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Modesto attorneys Bart Barringer and Jim Mayol are behind the proposal, which would be built on the site of their law office.
If finished, their project could become the first new housing in the city center since Ralston Tower opened in 1974.
Barringer portrayed the plan as an asset to Modesto's downtown redevelopment efforts.
"We're hoping to go to the next step with the opening of the Gallo Center for the Arts," he said, referring to the $40 million I Street building.
Two downtown landlords told the commission they were concerned about how the condominiums could affect downtown parking, but even they praised the lawyers' plans.
"We believe this is a fabulous project," said Javier Rangel, who owns an adjacent building on 14th Street with two business partners.
Huff Construction's plans call for 45 residences in the tower's upper five floors. Retail space consumes some of the first floor, while offices would take up the second.
A parking garage for 112 cars would take up the third floor and some of the second.
People who live in the condominiums would each get two parking spaces, which would be stacked on top of each other. A machine would lift one car above the other to make the most use of the space, according to the proposal.
Evan Porges, 38, told the commission the proposal would fill a need in the city's housing market.
"Some of you guys are wondering who would want to live downtown," he said. "I'm that guy."
"It's time for Modesto to take the next leap in becoming a great city," Porges said.
Matt Oliver, a San Mateo development consultant working with Mayol and Barringer, negotiated a clause in the agreement with the commission that would give them as many as three years to build the tower. That's an increase above the city's standard two-year timeline.
Oliver told the commission the builders plan to move quickly on the project, but they could be delayed by an uncertain financial market.
The zoning change the com- mission signed off on must gain the City Council's approval at a later meeting. The developers must submit final maps for the city's approval before they can apply for building permits.
Another plan for a condo tower is in the works for 10th and H streets. Team Modesto, a building group, is behind that proposal, which is advancing through Modesto's Redevelopment Agency.
Redevelopment guidelines have delayed that project, which first was discussed in 2005. The City Council in May voted to allow Team Modesto to conduct environmental studies on the site.
In other business, the Planning Commission approved a zoning change that would allow Habitat for Humanity to build a 20-unit affordable housing project on Houser Lane in west Modesto.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.