City Council capitulates as Navy appears to succeed in halting massive housing project

By Ed Martin, Editor
City Council capitulates as Navy appears to succeed in halting massive housing project

Just two weeks after initially approving a huge tract of homes near West Hills Community College, the Lemoore City Council Tuesday night delivered a surprising death blow to the 362-home Lennar Homes project, failing to provide even a motion to approve the second reading of critical ordinances needed to get the project rolling.

Council members failed to put the issue up for a vote. They appeared to capitulate to a United States Navy assault that included a detailed verbal presentation and a daunting aerial display of FA-18 Hornets, making numerous flyovers as council members debated their options.

The flights flew directly over downtown Lemoore and city hall, where Navy officials continued their efforts to halt construction of homes near West Hills College. The roar of the Hornets’ engines permeated the council chambers.

The aerial flight show began shortly before the start of the 7:30 p.m. meeting and continued for approximately 45 minutes. The navy jets appeared to fly directly over the Lemoore Council Chambers where council members, city staff, and navy officials gathered to debate a housing project the Navy clearly did not want to be built.

There were at least eight flights that flew directly over the city Tuesday night, including at least one small passenger jet that appeared to veer off towards Lemoore Naval Air Station.

Cmdr. Christ Fisher, speaking on behalf of NAS Lemoore Commanding Officer Douglas M. Peterson, delivered the familiar argument that navy officials fear that building the 362 homes west of Highway 41 would foster potential encroachment and hinder the Navy’s training efforts.

“Naval Air Station Lemoore is concerned that the actions (homes) will lead to encroachment of mission, incompatible development, subject individuals to high aircraft noise, and expose our aircrews and future Lemoore residents to unnecessary health and safety risks,” said Fisher.

While historically the U.S. Navy and city of Lemoore have been good neighbors, Fisher urged the council to reconsider the proposed development. “Encroachment occurs over time, and ultimately it ends in open hostilities between the military installation and the community. I predict by allowing incompatible development, the city council tipped the domino that will set in motion events that ultimately lead to conflict between NAS Lemoore and the city of Lemoore.”

Lemoore City Manager Nathan Olson said a lot of time and money was put into the proposed housing tract and reminded the council and navy officials that future development ends at the college.

“We had a deal that we would not grow past the college,” said Olson. “You’re currently flying over houses that were built decades ago. I feel like the city has kept up our end of the agreement. We are still six miles away. That is far from encroachment, and we don’t control any of that land to the west of us.”

Expansion west of the college is almost impossible. Olson said that Kings County would have to approve any further expansion.

“It’s not fair to stop and unwind all the work we’ve done,” said the Lemoore city manager. “We have spent a lot of time, effort, and money in making this happen.”

He added that economic development is essential to the city’s growth and stability. “We have a great developer that wants to invest in our city, and we’re sitting here doing this? This has been decades in the making. I’m frustrated. I know where you’re coming from, but West Hills College is not going to kill NAS Lemoore. It just isn’t.”

Fisher indicated that encroachment occurs over time, and ultimately it ends in open hostilities between the military installation and the community. “I  am worried that the future residents of Lemoore will not share in your zeal and enthusiasm over jet noise.”

Fisher cited the Navy’s contributions to the city, Kings County, and the Valley. He said that NAS Lemoore contributes over $1 billion to the local economy and employs 14,000 civilian workers who work at the air station. Many of them are Lemoore citizens.

“The Navy and I stand ready to continue to foster partnerships to support both the community and Naval Air Station Lemoore’s mission. Ultimately the Navy will respect the city of Lemoore’s decision,” he said.

Local optometrist and former naval officer Jeff Garcia agreed that building homes beneath a flight pattern is probably not a good idea. “The golden goose egg in this town is that base,” he said. “And you’re going to disrespect that. I think that is horrible, and I think that any type of housing under that flight path is incompatible.”

He suggested that commercial and industrial areas would be preferable. Putting homes there would lead to future problems. “Eventually, they’ll (homeowners) be unhappy with the noise, and they’ll start complaining.”

Councilmember Chris Schalde suggested tabling the topic until the next meeting, indicating that he was not informed enough to decide that night.

“We’re going to look like we don’t know what we’re doing,” countered Olson, reminding council members that extensive plans were developed and public hearings held. The Lemoore Lemoore Planning Commission also approved the project.

“Is Lemoore going to completely abandon the west side,” said Olson. “Any time we build new homes, that’s when the military comes out. It’s about the houses. It’s not about this one thing. This will be forever ongoing, so it’s time we decide as a city; are we going to build the west side and support the community college (which) has been the plan?”

Olson simplified the argument by telling council members that the Navy’s solution is to not build houses, and the city wants to build new homes and grow. If the Navy succeeds in its argument, “nobody’s going to want to come to Lemoore and build houses. This is not good for the city.”

Mayor pro tem John Plourde wondered out loud whether it was in the best interest of the city of Lemoore to have homes, a lot of them, at that location while the Navy sits just 7.3 miles away. “There’s been a lot of planning. I was kind of swayed both ways.”

Mayor Eddie Neal chimed in: “When it comes to the safety of my community, I’m going to stand with the Navy. That’s where I’m at,” he said as councilmembers failed to make a motion and vote.


City Council capitulates as Navy appears to succeed in halting massive housing project

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