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Merced County OKs studies for golf town

TURLOCK — Developers hoping to create a town around the Turlock Golf & Country Club overcame stiff opposition with split-vote approval from Merced County leaders to start a series of studies.

The 3-2 vote by the Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday favors Turlock-based JKB Homes' 30-year vision. It calls for 11,000 people living in 3,500 homes on 1,600 rural acres in the middle of a growth triangle with corners in southeast Turlock, Delhi and Hilmar.

Supporters say the master-planned golf town would provide needed money for the future Highway 165 bypass of Hilmar and a proposed Highway 99 interchange about a quarter-mile from the 18-hole golf course, which would be expanded by nine holes. Conceptual drawings include shops in a village center, two schools, parks and lakes. The developers will pay for the studies.

JKB Homes lined up support from Hamid Shirvani, president of California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock Mayor John Lazar, Foster Farms executives, members of the private Turlock country club and neighbors.

Apparently, that was enough to overcome criticism from some neighbors, leaders in Hilmar and Delhi, some Merced County planning and public works staff and the county supervisor who represents that northcounty area.

"At least 550 people in my district didn't like the project," said Supervisor Deidre Kelsey, referring to a petition opposing the golf town. She and Supervisor John Pedrozo voted against JKB's "guidance package." They were outvoted by Supervisors Kathleen Crookham, Mike Nelson and Jerry O'Banion.

"I can't see how we can build our way out of the traffic problem on (Highway) 165," Kelsey said. "That's like trying to borrow your way out of debt."

Hilmar Municipal Advisory Council members in March voted 3-2 against the idea, citing worries about water, traffic and the effect on farming. The council continues to work on its own growth plan.

Delhi's Municipal Advisory Council, whose growth plan was approved last year, split its vote 2-2 when asked to weigh in on the golf town, partly because it might compete with Delhi's growth potential.

Merced County's public works department suggested waiting until Hilmar bypass alternative routes are designated, because they could run right through the golf town. And county planners said in a report that the town "may encourage the urbanization of the area between Hilmar, Delhi and Turlock," degrading their identities and swallowing farmland.

JKB's development team members "seem to have forgotten the common good," neighbors Mark and Cathy Ferreira wrote in a letter.

In another, John and Alice Alameda wrote, "We feel that this is a beautifully designed project that will fit nicely into our area." They farm between Turlock and Hilmar.

Shirvani, referring to himself as "an internationally recognized authority on urban design with extensive published works in the field," wrote "the whole design concept is wellorchestrated." The letterhead bears Stanislaus State's seal and the words, "Office of the President."

Michael Warda, a Turlock attorney representing JKB, said technicians studying the Hilmar bypass would benefit from studies to be tackled by the golf town team. The upcoming studies will identify water and sewer sources, he said.

If things go as planned, home construction could start in five to seven years, Warda said.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at or 578-2390 or