Stanislaus County supervisors approved a much-disputed land use permit for a 3,500-person amphitheater at The Fruit Yard east of Modesto, despite claims the business has exploited loopholes in county law.
The permit will allow a dozen outdoor concerts with amplified music each year at the commercial site at Highway 132 and Geer Road. But the business also could hold an unlimited number of wedding and special events in the amphitheater, which was built before the proposal came before county government bodies this year
Neighbors who opposed the project urged the Board of Supervisors to send it back to the Planning Commission to clarify issues, such as what events are allowed at the venue.
“You would think in a 500-page staff report that everything would be clear,” said Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who objected to red-line changes to development standards and mitigation measures that were approved by the Planning Commission.
Neighbors said the county was allowing a venue with more capacity than the Gallo Center for the Arts in a rural area, which will disturb their peace and quiet and threaten traffic backups at the intersection. They predicted drunk and impaired drivers on the roads and, with legalized marijuana, doubted that concert promoters could prevent teenagers from smoking weed at the concerts.
Supervisors gave approval on a 4-1 vote, though the issue could end up in court. Supervisor Terry Withrow said the changes made to mitigation measures will bolster the county’s authority to enforce permit requirements.
A condition will require alcohol sales to stop at 10 p.m. during amphitheater events. Amplified-music concerts must end by 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday concerts can run until 11 p.m. if sound levels at the first two events comply with the county noise ordinance.
DeMartini objected that concrete had been poured for the amphitheater before county panels could determine the best configuration for the venue.
He pressed the Public Works Department on a 2015 grading permit, which was issued to the business for drainage improvements. Owner Joe Traina did the grading for the amphitheater in 2015 based on that permit.
Public Works Director Matt Machado said staff denied a final sign-off on the grading permit in February 2016 after noting additional work beyond drainage improvements had been done.
Angela Freitas, director of planning and community development, said the grading permit was never sent to county planning before it was issued in early 2015. That process has been corrected – planning is now signing off on grading permits, she said.
Engineer David Romano, representing The Fruit Yard, said the owner decided to shape a berm for the venue after seeing he had excess dirt from the drainage work. The business was required to apply for the use permit after county staff determined the amphitheater wasn’t allowed under a 2008 rezoning.
Neighbors who opposed the project said the county was sending a message the business can do what it wants without fear of enforcement action.
“This project is absolutely a mess and it has been since 2008,” said Michelle Bell, who lives nearby on Weyer Road. Noting that the 2008 rezone allows concerts in the park area to run until midnight, Bell said her children won’t be able to sleep on school nights.
Supervisor Kristin Olsen said that children can be taught to sleep through noise, a comment that failed to ease concerns of the neighbors.
Proponents said a 2008 rezone allows the business to hold an unlimited number of weddings and special events in a park area. Romano said perhaps 10 to 20 of those events could be held in the amphitheater and, at that location, may generate less noise.
The county received letters supporting the project from nine residents living near The Fruit Yard.
Supervisors said acoustical tests at the initial concerts will show if the venue can meet the county’s noise standards. If they can’t, the permit will come back to the planning department for more review.
The Fruit Yard must prepare a traffic management plan for entertainment events. In addition, the business must have a “good neighbor policy” spelling out a process for receiving complaints from neighbors and responding.
Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321, @KenCarlson16
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors also took the following action Tuesday:
– Certified a final environmental study on the Seventh Street Bridge project in Modesto and chose an alternative to demolish the historic bridge and replace it with a conventional span. The county is still working on a plan for preserving the lion statues and other historic features of the 100-year-old bridge. Fundraising may be required.
– Approved an expansion for Bronco Wine Company south of Ceres.