MODESTO — A developer's plan to build a few hundred homes in northwest Modesto drew few comments during a Monday night meeting, but those few captured the city's debate over striking a balance between houses, jobs and conserving farmland.
Fitzpatrick Homes is developing plans for 353 houses and 180 units of multifamily housing, such as apartments, on 72 acres of farmland bordered by Pelandale Avenue, Tully Road, Bangs Avenue and Carver Road.
Construction on the project's infrastructure could start as soon as 2014, with home building starting a few months later, Fitzpatrick Homes President Dennis Fitzpatrick said after Monday evening's Planning Commission study session on the development, which is called Woodglen.
The Planning Commission took no action. That will come June 17 when commissioners hold a public hearing on the project and issue a recommendation to the City Council.
The City Council is expected to consider the project at its July 9 meeting. The council will need to determine whether Woodglen complies with the city's general plan its blueprint for growth and whether the city should annex the 72 acres.
About a half-dozen members of the public attended Monday's meeting, and three addressed the planning commissioners.
Farmland, jobs top worries
Two spoke against Wood-glen, citing the need to conserve prime farmland and to bring in business parks and jobs before building more homes. City officials are talking about how to attract business parks and commercial enterprises to make Modesto less dependent on agriculture and construction jobs.
"The city is destroying prime farmland for houses. Houses we don't need," Donna Minighini said.
Woodglen is just north of the residential growth limit line proposed by former Modesto Councilman Denny Jackman in an effort to preserve prime farmland. The proposal would require voter approval for housing developments beyond the growth line.
Jackman asked council members in April to send his proposal out for review and have it returned to them in time to place it on the November ballot. A council majority agreed to have the proposal reviewed but did not impose a deadline, so it does not appear the proposal will be on the November ballot.
Fitzpatrick Homes has been working on Woodglen for about a decade and has complied with all city requirements. The home builder put the project on hold in 2007 because of the recession, but it restarted the project with the city in 2010. The home builder expects to have all the regulatory approvals for Wood-glen by fall.
The city hasn't seen a housing development this large in at least five years, since the real estate bubble burst. New home sales and construction have nearly died in Modesto since 2008. The city issued eight building permits for single-
family homes in 2012, the fewest in more than 50 years.
Fitzpatrick has said there is a strong demand for new housing in the Modesto area. Those comments were echoed Monday by real estate agent Tammy Pinheiro.
"We absolutely need new houses," she told planning commissioners. "There are plenty of buyers to fill those homes." She said Woodglen would spur more growth and jobs for the city.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2316.