MODESTO — The Modesto City Council got an earful Tuesday night from farmers and other residents over a proposed plan for the citys future that would set aside hundreds of acres of prime farmland west of Highway 99 for industrial and commercial development.
Speakers said rather than designating some of the most productive farmland in the nation for industry and commerce, the city should designate land in east Modesto, where the soil is of lower quality, or along the major thoroughfare of Crows Landing Road. They also raised concerns about increased traffic and pollution, and whether the city has the water to support such development.
The area west of Highway 99 includes the Wood Colony area, settled by German Baptists in the early 1900s and still farmed by many. City officials say the proposed changes do not include Wood Colony. But Paul Wenger, whose family has farmed in the area for more than a century, said in an interview that the city has not exempted all of the colony. Wenger fears that once development gains a toehold west of Highway 99, it wont stop, and that Modesto would lose a vibrant community marked by civic involvement and strong churches and schools.
The proposal to designate about 1,800 acres for industrial and commercial development west of Highway 99 and north of Highway 132 roughly doubling the amount of land west of Highway 99 for development is among the pending changes in an update, or amendment, to Modestos general plan, which serves as a blueprint for the citys growth.
The amendments other highlights include dropping Salida from the citys general plan. That would end any attempts by the city to annex the community of about 13,700 residents northwest of Modesto. Mayor Garrad Marsh has advocated exploring annexation for more than a year, saying Salidas proximity to Highway 99 makes it a prime location for large-scale business parks, but he has faced vehement opposition from Salida residents. Salida Municipal Advisory Council member Katherine Borges reiterated that opposition Tuesday.
Tuesday was the first time the council has taken up the general plan amendment, but the comments made by the speakers were familiar. The city has spent about two years working on updating the land-use and transportation components of its general plan. Much of what was said Tuesday has been said at six public hearings the Planning Commission has held this year.
Council members were expected to decide whether to accept the proposed amendment and authorize staff to spend $75,000 for the amendments lengthy environmental studies before the amendment comes back to the council in 2015 for adoption. But Marsh postponed any decision until the councils Jan.28 meeting so the three council members elected last month can get up to speed on the proposed changes. Council members will provide staff with their input on the changes at the Jan. 7 council meeting.
City officials believe the proposed changes to the general plan would help diversify the economy. They say designating land along Highways 99 and 132 for industrial and commercial uses, such as food manufacturers, is critical if the city is going to land businesses with well-paying jobs.
Tuesdays public comment period had not ended as of press time. Several Chamber of Commerce officials were expected to speak in favor of the proposal and stress the need for Modesto to cut into its chronically high unemployment rate.
Other proposals that are part of the general plan amendment include:
• Removing the village residential designation north of Kiernan Avenue, which would protect prime farmland and quality groundwater recharge areas. Village residential calls for a mix of housing, parks, schools and stores.
• Incorporating Modestos efforts to revitalize downtown and make it one of the citys job centers. Modesto is considering measures such as offering incentives to businesses. It also is working on landing a new courthouse for 10th Street and hoping the Altamont Corridor Express will build a commuter train station downtown in a few years, which would bring more people downtown.
More on the general plan update is available at http://modestogov.com/ced/projects/gp-amendment.asp.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.