A contractor’s plans to build four single-family homes off South Washington Street in Sonora remain in limbo after city planning commissioners delayed a decision Monday night over a requested parcel split.

The project would be located on two existing parcels that face South Washington Street and are bordered at the rear by railroad tracks.

Ron Palhegyi, the contractor and property owner, said he’s already allowed to build two homes on the property and has almost completed the first one.

However, citing a dire need for more modestly priced housing throughout Tuolumne County, Palhegyi is seeking approval from the city to split the property into four parcels so that he can build an additional two homes.

“They won’t be very big, but they’ll be very cost effective,” Palhegyi said. “That’s kind of why I bought the lots, because if I could put two more in there I could bring the cost and sell them to someone who can’t get a house right now.”

The commission has requested more information from Palhegyi related to traffic and fire flow before agreeing to approve the split.

Sonora Fire Chief Aimee New submitted a comment letter recommending a requirement for having a nearby fire hydrant tested to ensure that it can provide the minimum flow of 500 gallons per minute for 30 minutes.

New also stated the existing hydrant is located in a “not desirable” spot for this project and that installing one on the west side of South Washington Street would prevent the department from having to shut down the busy thoroughfare if a fire breaks out in one of the homes.

Palhegyi said he believes the flow from the existing hydrant will be sufficient and that all of the homes will be built to modern standards, which includes fire sprinkler systems, fire-resistant coating on the eaves and special vents that fire can’t penetrate.

A neighbor who lives close to where the proposed homes would be built also complained at the meeting about the potential impact on traffic and access, according to Palhegyi, who acknowledged how busy the street outside can be at certain times of the day.

“There’s nothing we can do about the traffic, you just have to deal with it,” he said. “There’s two ways in and two ways out.”

Palhegyi said he’s built more than 200 homes in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties since 1969.

The construction of single-family homes throughout both counties has steadily declined since a peak in the 1970s, when more than 7,600 new homes were built in Tuolumne County over the course of that decade.

Prior to the 2008 housing market crash, the city was seeing between about 15 and 30 housing starts per year. The city has averaged just under three starts annually since that time.

The median price of the 531 home sales in the county through the first six months of this year was about $280,000, up about $10,000 from the same period in 2017.

About 18 percent of total sales in the second quarter was comprised of homes sold at $200,000 or below, down about 3 percent from the second quarter of 2017, which the Tuolumne County Association of Realtors attributed largely to a lack of inventory in that price range.

Palhegyi said the homes he plans to build likely will go for about $260,000 to $280,000. He expects that he’ll be ready to seek approval again at the commission’s meeting next month.

“If we don’t get it (approval to split the property), life goes on,” Palhegyi said. “If we do, we’ll end up with two more houses in that lower end.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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