Patterson seeks OK for business park – again

12/01/2013 7:09 PM

12/01/2013 7:10 PM

Patterson will take another run Wednesday at annexing more than 1,100 acres for a future business park, saying its promise of 10,000 jobs outweighs ongoing opposition on various levels.

At the same meeting, Modesto will seek permission to add 84 acres north of town for the future Woodglen development, featuring 533 homes, the city’s first serious housing project in five years.

Patterson has been busy with additional studies since dropping a similarly massive proposal in February under heavy fire for concerns over road financing, loss of prime farmland and adequate water and sewer services. But critics say the extra information doesn’t negate those problems, and a new objection recently surfaced with emerging concerns over subsidence, or earth sinking from too much well pumping.

With its latest proposal, Patterson seems willing to take a chance that members of the Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission will agree that the prospect of thousands of new jobs justifies downsides outlined by the commission’s own staff, as well as other opponents.

The growth-guiding agency is composed of elected officials from other bodies – two Stanislaus County supervisors, two representatives from among the county’s nine cities and a commissioner representing the general public. LAFCo has taken steps in recent times to curb sprawl but can be subject to political pressure, especially with stakes as high as those in the Patterson proposal.

Jeff Arambel and KDN Enterprises hope to boost Patterson’s land mass by one-third by adding 1,119 acres between the Keystone and Westridge business parks and Interstate 5. The West Patterson Business Park would feature more than 13million square feet of stores and warehouses.

The complex would help Patterson continue a hot streak of luring distribution centers for Amazon, CVS Pharmacy, Kohl’s and Grainger. A lack of shovel-ready sites would “most certainly push more and more companies to the larger, established commercial markets of Tracy, Stockton, Lathrop and Manteca,” wrote Jason Quintel of Seefried Industrial Properties, which helped draw Amazon, in a letter to LAFCo last week.

Patterson proposal has critics

The county’s public works department led opposition early this year, saying the city was naive in its deal with developers and would collect only a fraction of the money needed for road and intersection upgrades generated by more traffic. Farm advocates also decried the city’s sudden removal of an earlier offer to require farmland preservation. And LAFCo staff members were not impressed with studies that could not guarantee how Patterson would provide water and sewer to the project.

Patterson and developers regrouped, producing several expensive studies aimed at easing critics’ fears. For example, a fiscal analysis predicts that new stores and industry would generate $3.5million more each year than the city would spend providing municipal services, and $3.1million more than the county would spend on road upgrades surrounding Patterson.

The city also created a plan to expand its sewage plant and build roads with loans to be repaid using fees collected from a future taxing district. And the Patterson City Council in September adopted a new agriculture preservation strategy giving developers a menu of options for projects that sacrifice valuable farmland.

The extra work has not converted opponents. Various roads would “rapidly deteriorate” under heavy truck traffic, posing “safety hazards,” said Tera Chumley of the county’s environmental review committee in a Nov.14 letter. If developers aren’t required to pay a fair share for road upgrades, “opposition will ensue at all levels,” said Matt Machado, the county’s public works director, in an August letter.

William Harrison, general manager of the Del Puerto Water District, questioned “the validity of the water supply assessment” especially regarding groundwater. Also, “the district feels that the city has erred in finding the project to be of greater benefit to the community than preserving agricultural land,” he wrote in a Nov. 3 letter.

Modesto attorney Frank Zumwalt, representing Patterson Frozen Foods, pointed to a Nov. 21 report of the U.S. Geological Survey that warned of earth sinking at an alarming rate a few miles southeast of Patterson. More pumping in times of drought could threaten Patterson, which relies exclusively on pumping for its drinking water, Zumwalt said in a Nov. 22 letter.

“Increased pumping and subsidence in just the last half-dozen years may explain why water levels have continued to decline,” he wrote.

LAFCo assistant executive officer Sara Lytle-Pinhey recommends that commissioners deny Patterson’s request.

The city’s own studies show that there wouldn’t be enough water or sewage capacity to go around once other projects already approved break ground, Lytle-Pinhey said. Additionally, she noted that Patterson has 1,220 vacant acres within the city limit that should be developed before adding more land.

Also, LAFCo frowns on requests to annex more land than can reasonably be developed within a couple of decades, and Patterson’s project would likely require more than that, she said. And the city’s farmland preservation strategy amounts to requiring that developers create their own strategies, Lytle-Pinhey said.

“The commission may conclude that the proposal will not result in planned, orderly and efficient use of land and services,” she wrote.

Modesto proposal gets a nod

Modesto’s Woodglen proposal, by contrast, receives a nod from Lytle-Pinhey because its developer came up with a concrete plan to permanently preserve elsewhere an acre of farmland for every acre to be developed. An option would require that Fitzpatrick Homes pay an amount equal to accomplishing that task.

LAFCo previously tabled the Woodglen request, bounded by Pelandale and Bangs avenues and Carver and Tully roads, on Sept. 25 to give Fitzpatrick and Modesto time to revise a weak farmland preservation plan.

The company has envisioned the project for about a decade but put it on hold in 2007 as the housing market collapsed. Fitzpatrick Homes wants to build 353 houses and 180 apartment or condominium units.

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