ONTARIO -- A plan for more than 300 zone changes will go to the City Council for final approval despite often-heated testimony Tuesday night before the Planning Commission.

The plan involves zone changes for 900 residential, industrial and commercial property owners in the city.

Because of updates to the city's General Plan in 2010, some properties are now zoned in areas no longer applicable. The changes are an effort from the city to make the General Plan consistent with what the city feels is the right land use for those properties. More than 5,000 properties will ultimately be rezoned.

The commission made the decision after hearing nearly two hours of testimony from upset residents who were questioning the changes, Many were concerned the changes would lower their property values.

A majority of residents also asked the commission make an exception on their home but city staff say it would be illegal to create spot zones.

"I know that it's very hard when you have a property and you want it grandfathered in but it also has to be, by California law, consistent," commissioner Rick Gage told residents. "None of us do it with joy or without knowing these are hard decisions."

Prior to Tuesday's meeting, planning staffers held a series of meetings, dating back to the summer, to discuss how these updated land change uses may impact residential, industrial and commercial property owners, said Jerry Blum, director of the Planning Department.

Many of the changes included reducing the density allowed on a property or removing animal-keeping designation in parts of the southern part of town.

There were some residents who were initially concerned but after talking to staff, realized they had no issues with the change.

In most cases, residents were informed that even though the zoning was changing, they could maintain already existing units or structures. But if 50 percent of that structure is ever damaged in the future, the residents would not be able to rebuild it because of the zone change.

Dennis Parker, who owns property near the intersection of E Street and Sultana Avenue, was upset because the plan will change his lot designation from a residential R3 zone to an R1 which will reduce the amount he can build on the property. An R3 zone allows for multiple single family residencies on the property.

Because the units on his property are about 100 years old, Parker said he was concerned the land uses changes would ultimately make if difficult for him to obtain the proper permits if he tried to make future improvements.

"It's not the same, not even remotely the same," Parker told the commission. "Reducing the zone to R1 reduces the property value, it goes down not matter how you slice it."

Blum and his staff assured him he would be able to make the changes but after hearing his testimony and reviewing the proposed changes, staff decided to hold off a decision on his properties and asked for more time to review it.

Not everyone was as fortunate as Parker.

Staff and the commission heard from resident after resident, who raised issues with how the changes were going to impact them, including a handful who lived in the southern part of town which allows animal-keeping.

The city was removing that designation for more than 50 homes near Francis Street and San Antonio Avenue because, according to Blum, they should have never had that designation to begin with.

The main issue is the lots are not large enough to comply with the city's code enforcement to keep animals. Most of the homes in that cluster are only 10,000 square feet, the city's code requires that a lot be at least 18,000 square feet to allow animals be kept on the property.

Blum said he and his staff tried to research city documents to determine why that area had been designated for animal-keeping. The only explanation Blum said he could come up with is those properties at one time were larger and ended up being subdivided.

Gage acknowledged that it can be difficult for residents to come up and talk to them, and said he appreciated their input.

"It's not an easy thing, I've been on that side of it," he said. "I appreciate all of you that came out and gave your input because it is very important to get the input.The results don't always come out the way you want it to be but I think there was a good discussion tonight between staff and residents to get an idea why some of these things are done."

Blum told residents they will have another opportunity to appeal the decision to the City Council.

Residents who still had issues with the changes were urged to call Blum or his staff.

"Staff is always willing to sit down and discuss with you," he said.

To reach the Planning Department, call 909-395-2430.

liset.marquez@inlandnewspapers.com