Unfair to block delayed project

May 9, 2013 

We think it's a positive sign that Fitzpatrick Homes has revived the plans for a 72-acre residential development of single- and multiple-family housing at the north edge of Modesto, north of Pelandale Avenue, between Tully and Carver roads.

This is the first signs of life in the homebuilding industry in more than five years.

The Woodglen plan, in the pipeline for more than decade, was set aside during the recession, as were many housing projects. Homebuilder Dennis Fitzpatrick now proposes to proceed, albeit slowly, to eventually build 353 houses and 180 multifamily units, such as apartments. The project had its first public airing Monday before the Modesto Planning Commission. It returns for a vote by the planning commission on June 17, followed by a City Council decision in July.

Two of the three citizens who spoke Monday objected to the project on the grounds that it will take farmland out of production and because they doubt the need for new houses.

While we hate to see farmland turned to houses, it would be patently unfair for the city to renege on a proposal that has complied with all city expectations over many years. Voters weighed in on this development back in 2003, and more than 60 percent said "yes" on an advisory measure asking whether the city should eventually extend sewer service to the property. An environmental impact report has been drafted. The property is clearly within the city's sphere of influence, and there is already housing nearby.

Former City Councilman Denny Jackman, long an advocate of protecting farmland, has proposed that the city establish a residential urban limit line along Pelandale. He hopes that will be on the November ballot. While this project is outside of that proposed urban limit, Jackman told us this week that he will not object to the Fitzpatrick plan because it has been in the works and because he prefers to focus on broad policies rather than individual developments.

The developer will have to put up millions for roads, sewer lines and other basics before home construction can begin, and he will assume the risk if homes are built before there is demand from buyers.

The city should not allow Fitzpatrick to cut any corners in terms of capital facility fees, mitigating traffic impact and other requirements. But landowners and developers who have played by the rules cannot have the rug pulled out from under them. Such a reversal would be unfair, would likely result in a lawsuit and would give the city an anti-business reputation it doesn't want to get.

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