Last week the the Madera County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 that Heartland Opportunity Center's amendment to the general plan, rezoning and conditional use permit fees -- an estimated $6,210 -- be waived. Heartland, which provides services for adults with developmental disabilities, has been operating a recycling center for about six years at the corner of Crane Valley Road (426) and Road 425B, not realizing it was zoned for residential use and the recycling center is considered a heavy commercial use, prohibited in a residential zone.
Matthew Treber, of the Madera County Planning Department, said the county notified Heartland of the issue earlier this year. Heartland looked for another recycling location but were unable to find anything affordable, so their only option is to apply for rezoning.
When John Reed, a commercial and investment realtor, heard what was going on, he decided to get involved. He wrote a letter to Norman Allinder, director of the Madera County Planning Department, and also spoke before the board of supervisors at the Nov. 20 meeting.
"Heartland Opportunity Center ... has provided comprehensive services to adults with developmental disabilities in Madera County for nearly 40 years, enabling individuals to maximize their potential and realize their dreams in a safe, supportive setting under the supervision of qualified and dedicated staff," Reed wrote in his letter.
Reed went on to note that Heartland started some of the first certified recycling centers in Madera County when California implemented its Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act in 1987. The Heartland recycling operation used to be located next to Raley's but relocated to their present location about six years ago.
Reed wrote that this use has been in place for years in full view and that Heartland provides a needed non-profit service to the community and they do not have the funds or opportunity to relocate again.
"They exist on volunteers and donations and it's a very tight operation," Reed said. "Since they do such a benefit, I suggested that the county waive fees for the zoning change."
Reed's suggestion was met with a positive response from the supervisors. District 3 Supervisor Ronn Dominici said he's seen how much Heartland has helped its clients and he would be happy to do anything to help out the organization. Dominici asked everyone from Heartland that were present at the meeting -- more than 20 -- to stand up at which time they received a round of applause.
"We had support from the road department, from all the county supervisors -- the support was overwhelming and we had a good contingent of clients at the meeting," said Kristy Anderson, Heartland CEO.
District 2 Supervisor David Rogers made a motion to approve the request, saying the fees would constitute a hardship on the project that serves as a public interest.
The waiver was possible because the County Code requires that the board of supervisors make the following findings to approve the requested fee waiver:
1. The contribution of the project would benefit the whole community and imposing the fee would constitute a hardship which, in turn, would reduce the benefit to the county.
2. The public interest would be served by waiving or reducing the fee.
However, Heartland still has an additional California Department of Fish and Game fee which is an additional $2,150 -- a fee the supervisors do not have the jurisdiction to waive -- as part of the California Environmental Quality Act. The CEQA fee can be waived, though, if the project (general plan amendment and rezoning) has no effect on fish and wildlife, according to the fish and game website.
In the meantime, Reed will submit a request for an amendment to the general plan, rezoning and conditional use permits sometime next year.
Lahna Crabtree, director of Heartland in Oakhurst, says everyone at center is very appreciative to Reed and the board of supervisors for all their efforts to help the center.
Crabtree has been working at the center for 37 years and couldn't stress enough how important the center is for the workers. Crabtree said that three of the four men at the recycling center have been working there since 1988 and the fourth has been working there for 14 years -- making the recycling center very important to them.
"It's their life and means the world to them and their socialization," she said. "It's not about the money for them, it's the validation -- it makes them feel like responsible contributors. They're dedicated workers."
Heartland is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.