One very long night three years ago, more than 300 people came to a Modesto City Council meeting to oppose the city’s plan to develop part of the Wood Colony farming community northwest of the city.
That contentious, heated meeting resulted in 1) a lingering distrust by the Wood Colonists because 2) the city refuses to remove them from its plans entirely which 3) compelled Wood Colony residents to band together to create a municipal advisory council (MAC).
On Tuesday, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors likely will approve a consent item to create a Wood Colony MAC. Unless derailed, the motion will trigger a 30-day public comment period, with the board expected to vote at the Feb. 27 meeting on whether to approve the county’s ninth MAC.
Development has long been a point of contention with Wood Colony residents on one side and the city and the Modesto Chamber of Commerce on the other.
Last week, Modesto land-use attorney George Petrulakis, an adviser to Mayor Ted Brandvold, sent a letter that he clearly listed as an “Attorney Advertisement” to landowners in Wood Colony. He alerted them that the supervisors could be “taking action that could negatively affect your hopes and plans for your land. ... I fear that long-range plans for this land will be adversely affected if that land is included in the boundaries of the new MAC.”
Wood Colony was established in 1869. Many of the farmers were German Baptists who came west from Pennsylvania and other points east in the 1870s. Over time, the colony expanded to include an area bordered by Gates Road to the west, Bacon Road to the north, Maze Boulevard to the south, and Morse and North roads to the east. That is the area included in the new Wood Colony MAC map.
Brandvold said the size of the MAC – covering 15,560 acres where 2,500 people live – encroaches onto where the city wants to extend to be within its sphere of influence.
After the 2014 meeting, Supervisor Terry Withrow began working with Wood Colony residents to establish the MAC. A MAC merely advises the supervisors of what they want for their communities. They have no power or authority.
“It gives the community a voice,” said Salida MAC chairwoman Katherine Borges. “We (Salida) get updates on zoning adjustment and other issues. Wood Colony is not notified.”
MACs don’t dictate the terms of land use, said Lisa Braden, who is involved in forming the Wood Colony MAC. “There are people who want to sell their land who are for the MAC,” she said. “We can’t stop them from selling it. We won’t have that authority.”
The Chamber of Commerce, which backs development of Wood Colony, invited Withrow to address its members late last year. He said it was only the second time he’s ever spoken to the group, and the first time was during the campaign for anti-sprawl Measure I in 2015. That also involved Wood Colony.
“I asked them, ‘When is it not a good thing for people together in a common place to have their voices heard?’ ” Withrow said. “ ‘Why not come out in support of the MAC? You’d get a regular place on their agenda to do a presentation. Maybe, God forbid, you could work out a deal. Why approach it as a fight to the end?’ ”
Brandvold also attended that meeting. He inherited the distrust created by predecessor Garrad Marsh, who ignored the Wood Colony folks’ desires to be left alone. Brandvold said he is disappointed the Wood Colony folks formed their MAC without telling the city of their plans.
“They never reached out to us,” he said. “I’m on the record as promoting outreach, and they did this without approaching us. It would have been nice to get some outreach from them. Terry could easily have been their spokesperson. I never said I was against it – just their approach.”
Yet, the reason they began forming the MAC was because they felt the city didn’t listen to them.
“This is probably a repercussion,” Brandvold said.
“We just don’t want to be blindsided,” Wood Colony’s Braden said.