Agriculture

Ag plan fallout on West Park?

The last-minute exemption of industrial and commercial land from the mitigation provision in Stanislaus County's agriculture element might have meant a windfall of more than $25 million for PCCP West Park LLC developer Gerry Kamilos -- but it won't, the Sacramento developer said Monday.

The Board of Supervisors last week approved the updated agriculture element to its general plan, after wrangling over one detail: the farmland mitigation provision.

The original draft called for developers to preserve an acre of equivalent farmland for every acre of farmland they build on.

That provision drew opposition from groups including the Building Industry Association of Central California, the Stanislaus Workforce and Economic Development Alliance and county chambers of commerce.

The board changed the provision to apply only to residential developers, exempting business and industrial land.

Supervisor Jeff Grover said he was concerned that requiring the mitigation of commercial and industrial land would hamper job growth in a county that is falling behind in job creation as the population grows.

Preserving equivalent farmland generally would require a developer to work with a conservation group to buy farmland easements -- paying a farmer to keep his land in farming.

The cost of those easements are up to the buyer and seller, noted Supervisor Jim DeMar-tini, who spent two years working with agriculture groups and planners to write the new ag element.

The value of an acre of easement might range from zero -- a developer buying ag land, putting the easements in place and reselling it for roughly the same price -- to $7,000, DeMartini said.

If the land were priced as farmland to start with, and sold to a dedicated farmer, the zero price could be realistic, DeMartini said. The farmer wouldn't care if there were easements on the property, since he or she intended to farm it anyway.

The $7,000 number reflects the farmer's loss of the ability to sell the land for development in the future.

The West Park development encompasses 4,800 acres on and around the county's Crows Landing air facility on the West Side. The proposed development is all industrial and business park.

Not all of the land is in agriculture -- there are two large concrete runways on the property, for instance. But if 3,600 acres of it is farmed, the mitigation exemption would be worth $25.2 million.

DeMartini said that unless the county can get Kamilos to agree in a development agreement to comply with the mitigation, he is exempt.

Kamilos has a different interpretation, however.

He said he feels the farmland mitigation is required in state law for farmland of statewide importance, and the West Park land qualifies.

"Our position has been consistent from day one: West Park will have an ag mitigation program on a one-to-one basis, consistent with the existing state conservation law," Kamilos said Monday.

Kamilos said his company is very familiar with the law, and created one of the first farmland mitigation programs in the northern Central Valley, in an Elk Grove project.

West Park will partner with a conservation group, such as the Central Valley Farmland Trust, to create the farm easements, Kamilos said.

"A lot of developers not familiar with the Central Valley tend to forget that one of five jobs here is directly related to the agriculture industry," Kamilos said. "As developers, when we look at these projects, we have to always look at projects as being in an ag environment. There are a lot of things to balance, and one of those balances has to be agriculture."

The only other large industrial development proposed in the unincorporated county is the Salida Plan, a residential, commercial and industrial development northwest of Modesto. Developers of the Salida Plan have agreed to comply with the mitigation, DeMartini said.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.

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