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January 26, 2014

Modesto council can expect full house over growth plans

City Council members can expect a packed house and a long meeting Tuesday night, when they might decide where and how Modesto should grow in the coming decades, including tough decisions regarding Wood Colony and Salida.

City Council members can expect a packed house and a long meeting Tuesday night, when they might decide where and how Modesto should grow in the coming decades.

The difficult decisions will be determining how many hundreds of acres the city should designate for development in Wood Colony, the farming enclave west of Highway 99, and whether Salida, Modesto’s unincorporated neighbor to the northwest, should be part of the city’s future.

Wood Colony and Salida residents have opposed any attempts to include them in Modesto’s future, but city officials have said they need land for business parks and industrial development and the jobs they would bring. The proposal has the support of the Modesto Chamber of Commerce.

More than 200 colony residents have attended recent council meetings on this issue, with many speaking against it. More than 300 are expected Tuesday night, said Jake Wenger, a fourth-generation colony farmer and Modesto Irrigation District board member.

The city is considering Wood Colony and Salida as part of amending the land-use and transportation components of its general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how Modesto will grow over a few decades.

On Tuesday, council members are expected to decide what the city’s general plan map should look like. Staff would then embark on environmental studies, which would take about a year, before bringing the general plan amendment back to the council for adoption.

Some of the decisions the council faces:

•  Whether to include any of an area north of Kiernan Avenue between Stoddard Road and McHenry Avenue in the general plan.
•  Whether to remove some or all of Salida from the general plan. Staff has recommended removing it because of the opposition the city has faced as it looked into annexation. The city is interested in Salida because it sits along Highway 99, which makes its land attractive for business and industrial parks.
•  Whether to increase the number of acres in Wood Colony designated for commercial, business and industrial use. Modesto has designated about 1,000 acres in the colony for development since 1995, though none of it has been developed.

The general plan amendment proposes to redraw the boundaries for development in the colony and roughly double the number of acres available.

The colony is outside the city limit. For the land to be developed, the owner would have to want to do this or sell it to a developer. The city would need to get permission from a growth-regulating agency to annex the land.

•  Whether to change the land-use designation for 320 acres along Highway 132 from business parks to mixed use, residential and rural residential.

Councilman Dave Cogdill is expected to ask the council to support his proposal to do a comprehensive update to the general plan rather than proceeding with the general plan amendment.

That would be the city’s first general plan update in about 20 years. And though it would build off the work done on the amendment, the update would cost $1 million to $1.5 million and take about two years. The amendment is expected to cost about $275,000, with $200,000 of that being paid by a grant.

Cogdill has said the city has taken a piecemeal approach to planning and would get better results if were to take a comprehensive look at its future.

Council members have been flooded with emails from Wood Colony residents and their supporters who want Modesto to leave the colony alone.

Mayor Garrad Marsh said this may be among the most contentious issues the council has faced during his 10 years on the elected board. He said Modesto must plan for its long-term future and needs land for business and industrial development along major transportation corridors.

But Wenger, the Wood Colony farmer, said the issue has been presented as either business parks in the colony or no new jobs. He said that’s a false choice and that the city can place business parks elsewhere, such as along Kiernan Avenue or Ninth Street.

The colony was founded by Old German Baptist Brethren and other settlers more than a century ago and has some of the most productive farmland in the state. The colony’s farmers have sustained a way of life that emphasizes family, community and helping your neighbors.

Salida is north of Wood Colony and has helped the colony in its fight with the city. Wenger said the colony would come to Salida’s aid if Modesto were to renew its interest in the unincorporated town.

He said that’s in part because Wood Colony and Salida see their fates as intertwined. Wenger said if Modesto were to annex one, it would inevitably try to annex the other.

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