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Tee up 9 more holes, a town?

TURLOCK -- The men behind JKB Homes visualized more than eagles and birdies as they played golf over the years at a private club south of the city.

In fields beyond 60 older homes in two nondescript subdivisions bordering the Turlock Golf & Country Club, the builders envisioned a new town.

And they're seeking permission to create it, smack in the middle of a future growth triangle with corners in southeast Turlock, Delhi and Hilmar.

The company's first move, if allowed by Merced County leaders: Add nine holes around which thousands of homes could be built.

"People like to be around a golf course, a parklike setting," said JKB co-owner Robert Martelli.

Styles would range from apartments and condominiums to regular houses and even ranchettes, plans show. Attorney Mi-chael Warda said units geared toward active seniors, including patio homes and town houses, would be a "substantial part of the project."

Plans covering 1,600 acres also feature a village center with shops, lakes and two sites for future Hilmar Unified School District schools.

But the focal point remains the golf course. Built in 1925, it's surrounded mostly by dairies and open farmland.

"We've embraced this idea," said Corinne Koftinow, president of the club's board of directors. They voted to support the project, she said.

"We see it as real growth potential for us," Koftinow said, noting the extra nine holes and need for a new clubhouse.

General manager Michael Blevins ran the club from 1994 to 2000 and returned about a year ago, lured in part by the expansion dream. "This is a pretty exciting time for the club," he said.

Some neighbors are catching that enthusiasm.

"It would benefit a lot of people," said David Axelson, who wouldn't have to drive as far for milk. He has lived in the country west of the club since 1990.

Chuck Musso recently drilled a well for his home to replace a failed one and would appreciate city water lines. Although homes in his rural neighborhood are as close as those in a typical city tract, all use separate wells and septic systems.

But Karen Balesteri said thousands of new neighbors driving thousands more cars would overwhelm already taxed Lander Avenue and country roads.

"We moved out here for peace and

quiet and serenity," said Balesteri, who does not belong to the club. "My two cents' worth is, I'm totally against it."

Martelli and JKB President James Brenda have played the course for years. Their home-grown Turlock company has built hundreds of houses throughout Stanislaus County.

In 2005, JKB contributed $100,000 toward a study for a new interchange on Highway 99, about a quarter-mile from the course, and for a Highway 165 bypass around Hilmar. A federal transportation grant covered the remaining $400,000.

"(The site) has close proximity to the lifeline of the valley," said planning consultant Gary Conte, referring to 99. Even without the new interchange, others at Delhi's Bradbury Road and Turlock's Lander Avenue are close.

Building homes near transportation corridors and on poorer soils are keys to smart growth, proponents note. The state classifies as prime less than 4 percent of the land around the club, Warda said.

In May, JKB quietly submitted a request to Merced County officials for a "guidance package," or a preliminary development plan and schedule. A response from the county is expected in a few months. If the plan and schedule are approved, the company would spend three or four years on required studies, including environmental impact reports, followed by the course expansion in an additional year or so.

The studies would pinpoint water and sewer sources, Brenda said.

Completing the project could take 25 years or so, Warda said. He said the new town would "help feed some of the commercial aspirations in Delhi" and Turlock and relieve growth pressure in Hilmar.

Those communities might see the idea in more of a competitive light. County leaders would have to clear a mental hurdle of giving birth to a community while controlled-growth advocates denounce any development outside cities.

To the north, Stanislaus County supervisors continue pledging to direct subdivisions to its nine cities, with exceptions for Salida, Keyes and Diablo Grande. Activists gathered enough signatures to force a countywide vote against ideas such as JKB's in Merced County, but Stanislaus County supervisors delayed the vote until next year.

Turlock Mayor John Lazar noted that the country club is in Merced County but has a Turlock address. JKB has explored using the city's sewage plant for the development.

"I'm kind of intrigued with it," Lazar said. "I just don't know how it would play with all the infrastructure, surface streets and other transportation elements."

Others say carefully thought-out, master-planned new towns are creative solutions to the valley's coming growth wave, without overtaxing existing cities.

Brenda said government leaders should put their heads together to master-plan regions.

"This area needs a long-range plan," he said, "or else we'll continue to see hopscotch development."

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Bee staff writer Garth Stapleycan be reached at 578-2390 or