Modesto News

Modesto News: Modesto has a fight on its hands over farming enclave

kvaline@modbee.comJanuary 10, 2014 

The city has a fight on its hands with its proposal to designate hundreds of acres in the Wood Colony farming community west of Highway 99 for industrial and commercial development.

More than 200 people turned out at Tuesday’s Modesto City Council meeting to oppose the plan. Mayor Garrad Marsh said during his decade on the council, he could recall only a couple of other times when as many people turned out for a particular issue.

A large number also attended the council’s Dec. 3 meeting when it first considered the proposal. Eighty to 100 people have spoken about the proposal at the two meetings, with nearly all speaking against it.

Many of those living in the colony are descendants of the Old German Baptist Brethren and others who settled there more than a century ago. They have spoken about farming on some of the most productive land in the state, where weather, water and dirt align perfectly. They have spoken about living in a close-knit community that welcomes newcomers and prizes neighbors looking after neighbors, volunteerism, and strong schools and churches.

Changing the land designation in Wood Colony is part of the city’s amendment of its general plan, which serves as the blueprint for how Modesto will grow and develop. The city is amending the general plan’s land use and traffic components. (For more on this, go to modestogov.com/ced/projects/gp-amendment.asp.)

The changes involving Wood Colony would redraw the boundaries for development and increase the acreage for development from about 1,000 to about 1,600 to 1,800. The general plan has designated about 1,000 acres for development since 1995, but no development has taken place.

The Chamber of Commerce and other proponents of the change say it is needed so the city can locate industrial and business parks and commercial development along Highways 99 and 132. They claim Wood Colony is the only place that makes sense for that kind of development.

They also say it will take at least 10 to 20 years for these potential business and industrial parks to materialize, and nothing can happen unless Wood Colony landowners are willing to sell or develop their land. The colony is not within the city limits, so the land would need to be annexed.

The message to colony residents seems to be, “We desperately need your land to diversify the economy and bring in well-paying jobs, but don’t worry. You have plenty of time to keep farming and nothing will happen unless you want it to happen.” Colony residents are not buying it. They see this as a land grab.

The City Council is expected to vote at its Jan. 28 meeting on whether to take the next step in amending the general plan – embarking on a lengthy environmental review. There appears to be enough council votes for the next step.

But even if Modesto wins on this issue, it could end up losing. It could lose public trust and goodwill.

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

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