SALIDA — City staff members are recommending Modesto raise the white flag in its effort to annex Salida, the city's unincorporated neighbor of about 13,700 residents to the northwest.
Mayor Garrad Marsh has pushed for exploring annexation since his first State of the City address in February 2012, saying that Salida's proximity to Highway 99 makes it a prime location for large-scale business parks.
He has faced stiff opposition from Salida residents, who have turned out at Modesto council meetings and other forums to voice their displeasure. But Marsh said Tuesday that it's too soon to change course.
He said there needs to be more public discussion on the issue and an advisory vote by Salidans on whether they want to be annexed. Marsh said a vote would determine what Salida residents want.
"I think it's premature to do that," he said about city staff's recommendation.
The recommendation drew praise from Salida resident Katherine Borges, who is leading a campaign to incorporate her community. "Thank you for taking Salida out of the general plan update," she said during a Modesto Planning Commission workshop Monday.
But she asked Modesto officials to remove from the city general plan business park land along Kiernan Avenue that she claims belongs to Salida.
Marsh disagreed Tuesday with Borges' assessment and added that the city needs to talk with Kiernan Avenue landowners about their preferences.
Modesto's Community and Economic Development Department unveiled its recommendation Monday evening during the workshop on the city's work to amend its general plan, which serves as a blueprint for growth and development, including land it may annex.
The city is amending its general plan to update land use and traffic elements and has held several workshops. At Monday's workshop, staff presented commissioners with proposed changes to the general plan amendment. They included:
Remove Salida from the general plan "due to the significant public input in opposition to its continued inclusion," according to a city report.
Roughly double the size of the so-called Beckwith-Dakota triangle, which runs along the west side of Highway 99. The triangle runs from Bacon Road to North Avenue. Staff members are recommending the area run as far south as Kansas Avenue. The area is prime farmland, but the city says it also is prime business park land because of its proximity to Highways 99 and 132.
Remove the village residential designation north of Kiernan Avenue to protect prime farmland and quality groundwater recharge areas. Village residential calls for a mix of housing, parks, schools and stores.
The recommended changes reflect input city staff have received from the public during the workshops. For instance, the Chamber of Commerce proposed expanding the Beckwith-Dakota triangle by several thousand acres. Planning staff recommend nearly doubling the acreage, from about 1,000 to about 1,800.
Audience members at Monday's workshop raised concerns that the city should not set aside prime ag land for business parks because it already has too many empty buildings and storefronts.
Community and Economic Development Director Brent Sinclair said the city recognizes the importance of protecting farmland but has to balance that against the need for business and commercial centers with easy access to Highways 99 and 132.
Planning commissioners are expected to decide whether to recommend the general plan amendment and its proposed changes at their Sept. 16 meeting.
Planning Manager Patrick Kelly said the next step would be to present the amendment to the City Council to see if members support the amendment and changes before the city embarks on lengthy environmental studies. The general plan update could come before the council for adoption in early 2015.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.