Panel favors higher density for Stanislaus housing

09/19/2013 12:43 AM

09/19/2013 12:46 AM

A vision for somewhat higher housing density in Stanislaus County, to an average of 11.4 homes per residential acre by 2035, won support from a high-placed panel Tuesday night.

The policy board of the Stanislaus Council of Governments, made up of elected officials from the county and its nine cities, voted 8-3 in support of this goal. Supporters said it would help preserve farmland and contain the cost of providing roads and other public services.

The other options were the historical trend of 7.8 homes per acre, the 10 homes per acre that is reflected in current growth plans, and a more ambitious push to 13.2 homes per acre. The low end would mean more sprawl onto farmland; the high end would favor building upward within city limits.

The vote does not force anything on the county Board of Supervisors or any of the city councils. It does move StanCOG toward compliance with a state law aimed at buffering climate change, on the assumption that higher density would reduce some of the fuel consumption contributing to the problem.

The vote launched another round of environmental study and public comment on the process, known as Valley Vision Stanislaus. The policy board could take a final vote in March.

The StanCOG staff had recommended the 10-home-per-acre option, following a series of public meetings and online surveying.

Board member Matt Beekman, the mayor of Hughson, preferred the 11.4-home-per-acre goal. “Density makes sense financially,” he said. “Sprawl is very expensive.”

Board member Dick Monteith, a county supervisor, questioned claims that higher density reduces crime and the cost of public services. He also said government should not force it on people.

Joining Beekman in the majority were Supervisors Jim DeMartini, Vito Chiesa and Terry Withrow; Mayors Luis Molina of Patterson and Richard O’Brien of Riverbank; and Councilmen Michael Brennan of Oakdale and Forrest White of Turlock.

Monteith was joined in dissent by Supervisor Bill O’Brien and Modesto Councilman Dave Geer.

The meeting drew a few dozen people to StanCOG’s board room, on the third floor of a restored building in downtown Modesto.

Among them was Modesto resident Brad Barker, an advocate for more homes per acre.

“The fiscally conservative thing at this point is more density,” he said.

John Beckman, chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association of the Greater Valley, urged the 10-home rate. He noted a survey finding that 79 percent of respondents prefer detached homes with large yards. “The consumer is going to decide how they want to live,” he said.

Supporters of the 10-home-per-acre goal said it had a key advantage: It already is reflected in many of the general plans adopted by the local governments. Richard O’Brien said the policy board could consider a “hybrid” of this proposal and the 11.4-home-per-acre goal.

More information on Valley Vision Stanislaus is at www.stancog.org .

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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