Modesto News: City taking next step in general plan update

Posted by Kevin Valine on May 1, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    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.
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Modesto is taking the next step in amending its general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how the city will grow and develop.

The City Council has approved a new land-use map in which the city has designated land for housing, agriculture, business parks and other uses. The city now is soliciting input from the public regarding the environmental studies that will examine the impacts of these uses, such as increased traffic.

Sound pretty dry? That has not been the case. Modesto has faced protests in recent months from hundreds of Wood Colony residents and their supporters who do not want the farming community west of Highway 99 included in the city’s plans. The council’s land-use map designates about 900 acres in the colony for commercial development and business parks.

City officials say they need to amend the general plan to ensure the city has enough land for business parks and commercial development to create jobs to accommodate Modesto’s population growth. Colony residents say they understand that but say their community is not the right place.

The colony was founded more than a century ago by Old German Baptist Brethren and other settlers and remains a close-knit community and a model of civic engagement. The colony’s farmland is among the most productive in the state.

Modesto officials also face being outflanked in their efforts to plan for the city’s future.

Former councilman and farmland advocate Denny Jackman is working with colony farmer Jake Wenger and others to put an urban limit boundary on the ballot. The measure would require voter approval for business, commercial and residential development beyond the urban limit. Wood Colony is beyond the urban limit’s western boundary.

Wenger – who serves on the Modesto Irrigation District’s board of directors – said supporters have started gathering signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. He added that for too long Modesto’s development has been dictated by developers and that an urban boundary would shift that balance to the voters. It would require developers to make their cases to the voters about the merits of their projects.

The City Council has faced withering criticism that it has ignored the wishes of the majority of Wood Colony residents who say they do not want their community included in the city’s growth plans.

Modesto’s proposed land-use map sets aside 211 acres for commercial development and 941 acres for business parks in the colony. The 211 acres are along Highway 99 and bordered by Dakota Avenue to the west and Beckwith Road to the south. The 941 acres are along Woodland and Kansas avenues and Highway 132.

About 300 of those 941 acres are east of Morse Avenue and in what is called Modesto’s sphere of influence. A sphere of influence is crucial. A city cannot annex land and have it developed unless it’s in its sphere. The Local Agency Formation Commission – an agency that determines city boundaries – makes the decisions on spheres of influence.

So those roughly 300 acres are not the focus of the fight between the colony and the city. The battlegrounds are the 211 acres designated for commercial development and the roughly 640 acres along Highway 132 that is not inside the sphere of influence.

To make matters more complicated, Modesto has designated about 1,000 acres in the colony in an area called the Beckwith-Dakota Triangle in its general plan since 1995. But none of it has been annexed and developed because LAFCo denied Modesto’s request in 1996 to include the triangle in its sphere. Those roughly 1,000 acres disappear in Modesto’s proposed amended general plan.

It is expected to take about a year to complete the draft environmental impact report for the general plan amendment. The amendment should come to the council for adoption in late 2015. Modesto is then expected to go to LAFCo for changes to its sphere of influence.

The public will have opportunities to weigh in throughout the process. For instance, the public has until 5 p.m. May 30 to ask questions or submit written comments about the scope of the environmental studies to the city. Questions and comments can be directed to principal planner Brad Wall at (209) 577-5273 or bwall@modestogov.com.

And Modesto is holding a meeting May 21 for the public to weigh in on the environmental studies at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. The meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers. More about the general plan amendment and the land-use maps is online at http://modestogov.com/ced/projects/gp-amendment.asp.

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