Modesto council to put growth to a vote

kvaline@modbee.comAugust 7, 2013 

    alternate text Kevin Valine
    Title: Reporter
    Coverage areas: City of Modesto and nonprofits
    Bio: Kevin Valine has been a copy editor and reporter at The Bee since January 2006. He's worked at the Reno Gazette-Journal, Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune and Paradise Post as a reporter and copy editor. He's a graduate of San Jose State.
    Recent stories written by Kevin

— The Modesto City Council voted Wednesday to put a proposal on the June ballot that would make it difficult for housing developments to be built on prime agricultural land.

The council voted 6-1 to place a residential urban limit developed by farmland advocate and former Councilman Denny Jackman before voters next year. The proposed boundary runs as far north as Kiernan Avenue and west along Highway 99.

It would require housing developers who want to build outside the boundary to seek voter approval for their projects. Jackman's proposal allows for housing developments to be built on Modesto's east side, where the farmland is of poorer quality.

Jackman's residential urban limit does not apply to industrial and commercial projects. For instance, a business park built west of Highway 99 would not be subject to the limit.

Councilwoman Stephanie Burnside voted against the proposal.

She said she wanted a more comprehensive approach that included putting two long-standing growth measures on the same ballot with Jackman's proposal. Those long-standing guides are Measures A and M, which require advisory votes from residents before the city extends sewer service.

Burnside was not alone.

John Beckman — chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley — said his organization would support Jackman's proposal as long as the ballot language included the provisions that Measures A and M would be repealed with the passage of the residential urban limit.

Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. acknowledged Jackman's residential urban limit could make Measures A and M unnecessary and in need of a review. But he said he did not want to put them on the same ballot as the urban boundary because it might complicate matters and confuse voters.

Cogdill preferred dealing with Measures A and M after the passage of the residential urban limit.

Cogdill has spent about six months working with Jackman and the Chamber of Commerce on the residential urban limit and said it is critical in Modesto's efforts to land jobs. City officials have talked about the need for business and industrial parks along Highway 99's west side, as well as along Highway 132, which connects Modesto with the Bay Area.

Cogdill said that without the residential urban limit, Modesto faces the prospect of more housing being built and the city cementing its position as a bedroom community for the Bay Area.

He said the residential urban limit is important because it protects against "bait and switch," in which land is set aside for a business park but the park does not materialize. Instead, houses are built.

After the meeting, Jackman said his residential urban limit will be a boon for food and agricultural producers as they expand operations and ship more goods out of the county. Agriculture is a nearly $3.3 billion industry in Stanislaus County, making it the county's top industry.

Besides placing the residential urban limit on the ballot, the council's vote directed city staff to review the proposal as part of the city's amendment of its general plan. A general plan serves as a blueprint for how a city will grow.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at or (209) 578-2316.

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