Stanislaus County leaders will decide if a concert venue drawing thousands of spectators should be placed in a rural area east of Modesto.
The Fruit Yard, at Geer Road and Highway 132, proposes a 3,500-person amphitheater for staging a dozen shows every year.
Supervisors have favored outdoor wedding venues, festivals and entertainment in the country atmosphere to attract people to Stanislaus County, as long as the activity does not disrupt the county’s No. 1 industry – agriculture.
Neighbors who raise issues with the Fruit Yard proposal are expected to appeal last week’s county Planning Commission vote in favor of the amphitheater. One neighbor said the appeal will be filed Monday. The Board of Supervisors could consider the project in June.
Owner Joe Traina proposes an amphitheater with grass seating, a covered stage, temporary parking for 1,300 vehicles and a storage building. Right now, the 44-acre Fruit Yard site includes a restaurant, gas station, store, fruit stand and park where two-lane Highway 132 intersects with Geer Road, between Empire and Waterford.
Traina has not recently said what kind of bands or entertainment would be booked for the spring and summer events. In an interview and a meeting with neighbors in 2015, Traina talked about more mellow concerts, comedy nights, Christian bands and theatrical events.
The 3,500-person capacity is almost three times bigger than the largest theater in the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto.
County Supervisor Terry Withrow said he’s open to entertainment venues outside of cities but will need to review the facts of the Fruit Yard plan.
“We don’t want to interfere with the things the area is zoned for,” he said. “At the same time, it is also nice to promote our area with these venues. It is a fine line we have to walk.”
In November, county leaders approved a policy that allows private wedding businesses in agricultural zones as long as they don’t interfere with farming. The same general rule will apply for any concert venue in the unincorporated area, Withrow said.
“We will have to make sure it is not going to be a problem for the people out there,” Withrow stressed.
The Fruit Yard has held small-scale concerts and Graffiti Summer events with live music. If the county does not permit the amphitheater, the business could hold six annual concerts under outdoor event permits issued by the Sheriff’s Department.
Chris Ricci, who held the long-running X-Fest in downtown Modesto before moving it to Stockton last year, said the Fruit Yard will have to book headline musical acts to sell 3,500 tickets for an event. “The demographic levels and household incomes (in the Valley) can be a challenge,” Ricci said. “People don’t have the same amount of income as the larger markets.”
Michelle Bell, who lives on Weyer Road, east of the site, said she questions if the concert venue is viable. “I don’t know who wants to come to play in Modesto,” Bell said. “If he is able to draw these big acts, it is going to be loud and busy and will impact our lives.”
Vito Chiesa, Board of Supervisors chairman, said he assumes the Fruit Yard will hold concerts similar to musical events at the county fair. Country Star LeAnn Rimes and the Eli Young Band are set to perform at the fair in July.
Chiesa said the business already has zoning, approved in 2008, that allows a banquet hall and outdoor events, though the site is bordered by agriculture. “He has the right to bring something forward,” Chiesa said. “There is a difference between a thousand people and something bigger. We have to make sure not to overburden the neighborhood.”
Supervisor Kristin Olsen represents the area. She did not return requests for comment.
Neighbors who spoke at last week’s Planning Commission hearing raised concerns about unacceptable noise levels, traffic and security. Some predicted that concertgoers will park and leave trash in nearby orchards. The permit would allow food and alcohol sales at amphitheater events.
Tim Douglas, a neighbor, said he does not take issue with daytime events at the Fruit Yard, but nighttime concerts will disrupt the peace and quiet of the area, he said.
According to the plan, amphitheater events held Sunday to Thursday will end at 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday events at 11 p.m.. Engineers will take noise readings at the first two large concerts to make adjustments so the events comply with the county’s noise ordinance.
County planners emphasized a “good neighbor policy” in event that concerts generate complaints from the neighborhood. The owner would establish a written policy, approved by the county, providing a way for neighbors to contact management and steps for management to respond to complaints.
The county planning director could amend the development standards for the business if the neighbors’ complaints are ignored. Some residents wished the Planning Commission had made concessions for the neighborhood.
“It would be better to locate something like that closer to a freeway, either (Interstate 5) or Highway 99,” Douglas said. “We don’t have the transportation network to feed into something like that here.”
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16