More than six years after submitting their proposal, the owners of Willms Ranch hope to get a decision from Stanislaus County supervisors today about whether they can divide their property into 42 parcels of 40 to 70 acres. We think the answer should be yes, for several reasons:
While 40 acres probably is not enough to provide a livable wage for the one or two households that might live on that size of parcel, this project fits within the ag zoning regulations that were in place when this map was considered complete in December 2006. The general plan was changed the next year to discourage home building on parcels of less than 160 acres, but that cannot be retroactively applied.
Opponents are calling for a full environmental impact report on the project, but there isn't strong evidence that this level of review would produce different results from the environmental studies that were complete and that showed there would not be a big negative impact.
Even if the board OKs the parcel division, before homes can be built or farming practices changed on the property, surveys would have to be made to identify vernal pools, seasonal wetlands, hawk and other bird habitat and blue elderberry shrubs and then to mitigate any disruption to them. Protections are in place.
Forty-two rural parcels is not going to generate a lot of new traffic for Highway 120 or that would significantly increase air pollution.
We respect the Stanislaus Audubon Society's concern about bird habitat and environmental degradation, but this is not a proposal to pave over the foothills the way we've seen so much prime farmland paved over around Modesto. And this isn't a plan to create the kind of ranchettes that proliferated in the Riverbank-Oakdale area in the 1960s and '70s. The Willms Ranch, in smaller parcels, will remain in agriculture use.
County planning staff and the Planning Commission agree that this proposal should proceed. Supervisors should follow their recommendation.
A public hearing is scheduled at 9:10 a.m. today on this planning issue. County supervisors meet in the basement of Tenth Street Place.