The City Council on Tuesday evening approved an 18-acre shopping center in northeast Modesto and faced more polite but determined opposition to a city plan to designate hundreds of acres of prime farmland for industrial and commercial development.
The two issues drew more than 200 opponents combined, who packed the council chamber. The great majority were against the proposal to set aside for development about 1,600 acres of farmland west of Highway 99 in the area known as Wood Colony.
The colony was founded by Old German Baptist Brethren and other settlers more than a century ago. Residents say it has some of the richest, most productive farmland in the state. They also say the colony is rich in community, with many of its residents descendants of the original settlers.
“I speak on behalf of all of the members of my church,” Sovereign Grace Baptist Church senior pastor William Heinrich told council members. “Please don’t do this.”
The Modesto Chamber of Commerce and other proposal supporters say the land is needed for commercial development, business parks and industrial development and the jobs they will bring. They say the colony is ideal because of its proximity to Highways 99 and 132.
Colony residents say they understand the need for development and jobs but that paving over their farmland is not the answer. They say the city should look elsewhere.
The Beard Industrial District – the Modesto area’s largest industrial park – has about 280 acres available for development, according to Beard CEO Ron Jackson. Some big industrial firms, such as Frito-Lay and Del Monte, are in the roughly 2,000-acre industrial park. The rub for the city is that the industrial park is not within the city limit.
Wood Colony residents spoke against the plan at the council’s Dec. 3 meeting, and council members continued to hear from more opponents Tuesday. Council members were expected to weigh in with their ideas, but opponents still were speaking as of press deadline.
Shopping center approved
The council voted 7-0 to approve The Marketplace, a shopping center on 18 vacant acres at Oakdale Road and Sylvan Avenue. The center would feature 170,000 square feet of retail space, including a 51,730-square-foot grocery store. Berberian Holdings is the landowner and developer. Project engineer Dave Romano said in an interview that construction could start this year and take about a year.
He and other project supporters have said The Marketplace will be a state-of-the-art shopping center, and its design will exceed the city’s standards. They also say it will provide sorely needed shopping in east Modesto and jobs.
The project has drawn criticism from nearby Naraghi Lake-area homeowners. They say traffic from the center will clog streets and that the project is not needed because tens of thousands of square feet of store space stand empty in east Modesto. They fear The Marketplace will draw tenants from nearby shopping centers, leading to more vacant space. They are especially concerned that Save Mart will close its store at the nearby Lakes Shopping Center and open a new store at The Marketplace.
The council approved The Marketplace with the provision that it have two driveways on Hashem Drive, which homeowners oppose. One driveway would be an exit for delivery trucks, and the second would be for cars entering and leaving the center. Council members said not allowing shoppers access on Hashem would create more traffic problems.
The council faced its biggest opposition Tuesday regarding Modesto’s proposal to amend the land-use and traffic components of its general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how the city will grow and develop. Designating more land for development in Wood Colony is among the most controversial aspects of the amendment. Residents define the colony as being bounded roughly by Highway 99 to the east, Murphy/Bacon Road to the north, Maze Boulevard to the south and North Gates Road to the west.
The city has designated about 1,000 acres in the colony for development since 1995. The general plan amendment would designate about 1,600 acres.
The colony is outside the city limit. For the land to be developed, a landowner would have to want to develop his or her land or sell it to a developer. The city would need permission from a growth-regulating agency to annex the land.
The council is expected to decide at its Jan. 28 meeting whether to take the next step toward the general plan amendment – lengthy environmental studies.