Modesto City Council to revisit Wood Colony decision

03/24/2014 6:51 PM

03/24/2014 6:53 PM

The Modesto City Council on Tuesday night will revisit its recent decision to include Wood Colony – the farming community west of Highway 99 – in its growth plans.

Wood Colony residents and their supporters have turned out by the hundreds at recent council meetings, imploring the council not to include the area in Modesto’s general plan, which serves as a blueprint for how the city will grow and develop in the coming decades.

Wood Colony residents are not likely to be pleased with the outcome of the meeting. That’s because the council will consider removing 1,254 acres of the area designated as agricultural land from the general plan while keeping about 1,150 acres designated for commercial development and business parks.

But one Wood Colony leader said it’s a step in the right direction and he expects the council ultimately will remove the entire area from the general plan.

“I think eventually the will of the people will get across,” said Jake Wenger, a fourth-generation Wood Colony farmer and Modesto Irrigation District board member.

Mayor Garrad Marsh has said those roughly 1,150 acres are not part of Wood Colony’s historic boundaries, though its residents say that land is part of their community. He advocated designating the 1,254 acres as farmland in the general plan to protect it from development.

But Wood Colony residents have said they don’t want any of their land in the general plan. They fear that once land is in the plan, its use can be changed – say, from farming to subdivisions or business parks.

The City Council has faced stinging criticism over Wood Colony, with its residents and their supporters saying the council has refused to consider more suitable areas for development, and the city’s plans would destroy a close-knit farming community founded more than a century ago.

Former councilman and farmland advocate Denny Jackman hopes to tap into that outrage. He has enlisted the support of Wenger and retired hydrologist Vance Kennedy 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. Jackman said he has submitted the paperwork to the city for review and expects to start gathering signatures in May to qualify the measure for the ballot. He said it could be on the ballot in November 2015, or sooner if he decides to pursue a special election.

“This is about protecting prime farmland,” he said. “You can only take so many empty promises.”

Jackman said he was dismayed with the council’s Jan. 28 votes to include Wood Colony and prime farmland north of Kiernan Avenue in the general plan. He said his proposed urban limit gives Modesto ample land for business parks and commercial development in north Modesto along Kiernan Avenue while protecting prime farmland and water recharge areas.

The proposed urban limit boundaries are roughly Sisk and Morse roads along the west, Pirrone Road and Kiernan Avenue along the north, and Whitmore Avenue and the Tuolumne River to the south. There would be no eastern boundary east of Claus Road north of Dry Creek.

The council voted this year to put a residential urban limit measure on the November 2015 ballot after Jackman advocated for such a measure. But he said Monday that, based on the council’s actions at the Jan. 28 meeting, a more definitive urban limit is warranted.

He added that such a boundary would give certainty to land-use decisions, something he said Modesto and other California cities have lacked as city councils have approved policies only to change them later.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

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