HUGHSON -- Hughson, the smallest city in Stanislaus County, is telling county leaders not to approve any development projects near its boundary.
City officials were miffed when county supervisors on Jan. 29 allowed a five-year time extension for Santa Fe Crossing, a 14.25-acre project at the northwest corner of Geer Road and Santa Fe Avenue, about a mile south of Hughson.
The project will include ministorage, a recreational vehicle yard, gas station, convenience store, drive-through coffee shop and other businesses, diverting dollars from the ailing downtown, city officials said.
Hughson had appealed a December decision by the county Planning Commission to grant the extension to the developers.
"It's quintessential hop-scotch development," Mayor Matt Beekman said. "It benefits no one."
Hughson wants the county to follow the county general plan policy to deny projects proposed in unincorporated areas near cities if those cities are opposed to the development. The 20-year-old policy is designed to prevent unincorporated islands that are hard for cities to later annex because they are built without curbs, sidewalks, drainage, and water and sewer hookups.
In a Feb. 25 resolution sent to the county, Hughson said more development near its border could further pollute the groundwater, harm local businesses and put more traffic on city streets.
As the city grows, a tax-sharing deal with the county won't give Hughson the revenue needed to serve islands that are annexed, said Thom Clark, community development director.
"It's not logical," Clark said. "We believe development should be in the cities."
Beekman, who was appointed to the council in 2009, said there was confusion about Hughson's position on Santa Fe Crossing before the county approved it in January 2008. But city officials contend the county should have respected Hughson's position when almost nothing developed for five years and the extension was requested.
On Jan. 29, Supervisors Dick Monteith and Bill O'Brien voted to deny Hughson's appeal, while Supervisor Jim DeMartini supported it. Supervisors Terry Withrow and Vito Chiesa abstained on conflicts of interest.
At this point, Beekman said, the city wants to make it clear it opposes any and all projects near its border.
Angela Freitas, county director of planning and community development, said the county remains committed to the policy with regard to projects in city "spheres of influence" or recognized growth areas.
In the case of Santa Fe Crossing, she said, time extensions are not subject to the policy and the developers made a reasonable case that the recession stymied their project, so they deserved an extension. Developers Martin and Mike Ruddy did not return a call seeking comment.
Freitas said the county seeks input from cities when development is proposed near their borders and projects are usually stopped when cities object. That process didn't work perfectly with the plan at Geer and Santa Fe, however.
Hughson at first opposed it and then proponents talked with city officials. Freitas said the county didn't see an objection from Hughson when the project came to decision-makers in 2008.
The county and its cities had a long history of disputes over residential and tax-generating commercial centers, but the relations improved after the county policy was adopted in the early 1990s.
George Britton, a former Modesto city manager and staff member from 2001 to 2008, said he doesn't recall many disputes when a project was proposed. "I can't remember a time where the city and county didn't work it out," he said.
Former Oakdale Mayor Pat Kuhn said the county kept with the rules during her years in office, with respect to Oakdale. "The county was pretty amenable to listening to us and respecting our goals as far as managing growth," she said.
Chiesa, the county board chairman whose district includes Hughson, said he understands the city's position. "I would hope that rather than a blanket 'no,' that we will still look at (projects) on a case-by-case basis," he said. "The cities are our partners and we pay attention to what they say."
Hughson, with 6,800 residents and a general fund of $2 million, is dwarfed by county government, but it appears serious about protecting its territory. Officials are particularly concerned that more septic systems near the city will worsen a problem with nitrates in wells.
"I think the county policy is a good one," Beekman said. "I just hope they follow it."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.
MODESTO CITY COUNCIL WATCH
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors took the following action Tuesday:
Gave approval to apply for a $650,000 Department of Justice grant to protect victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. The funding would replace a previous grant, helping to fund staffing for three years at the Family Justice Center, district attorney's office and Haven Women's Center. Tom Ciccarelli, executive director of Family Justice Center, said the program served 297 clients last year, providing them with counseling, crisis intervention, housing and legal assistance. About 77 percent of the victims have children.
Approved stronger vehicle purchase policies
Approved an easement for AT&T at 1905 Richland Ave. for faster high-speed data service to the county Office of Education's Ceres Community School