Oakdale takes slow approach to growth

OAKDALE -- The city is bound to grow. City Council members hope that growth comes slowly and includes more stores and more sales tax revenue.

After watching its income from sales tax slip for months, city officials are focused on ways to get residents to spend more money in town. Residents say they want to, but shopping opportunities are limited.

That in part is what drove council members' decision last week to allow developers to start drafting plans for growth on the east and west sides of town. While the specifics have yet to be established, the areas are zoned for retail, residential and other uses.

"We're interested in commercial development on the western side of town -- not just for our own revenue, but to service people on that side of town," Mayor Farrell Jackson said.

Jackson figures putting 30 acres of retail in west Oakdale will draw people from out of town, too.

Two east side developments -- one at 299 acres and another at 260 acres -- also will include retail space, which Jackson said he hopes will entice Tuolumne County residents to shop in Oakdale.

The two developments flank another planned for the east side of town called the East F Street Plan, which also includes businesses and homes. That plan, which was approved about a year ago, hasn't gotten far because it requires developers to foot the bill for improvements that would run about $20 million.

Those improvements include widening East F Street to four lanes and putting in sewer and water lines. City officials hope adding more land to the area will jump-start the East F Street Plan by spreading the cost of the improvements across another 559 acres.

"It's financially impractical at this time to develop the highway corridor. By including (more land), you bring down the proportionate per-acre cost of developing that area," City Manager Steve Hallam said.

City officials maintain that all of this development will happen slowly and cautiously, if it is approved at all.

"I believe we are truly in the driver's seat. We can dictate the pace at which development happens," Jackson said.

Council members have so far told developers they can draw up plans at their own expense for the council to consider. If council members like the plans, the city can approve the developments with stipulations, such as how and how fast those plans become reality. By retaining the ability to say what is developed first, the council can address broader city development issues, such as the desire for retail.

"I believe we've let our houses outpace retail, and now it's time to fix that," Jackson said.

Three to five years lead time

Still, both the west side and the east side plans include housing.

Council members can decide the pace at which those houses are built, too, said Community Development Director Danelle Stylos. "They can limit the number of houses built per year or the number or acres developed per year."

It will be another three to five years before anyone actually breaks ground on their developments.

As the housing market is cooling, Hallam said, he figures this is the perfect time to plan new developments because there's no pressure to speed through the process.

"While the pressure's off, this is the perfect time to pause and invest your time and resources into thoughtfully looking at the kinds of communities you want to create," he said.

Planning alone will take about two years, he added.

"That gives us time to make sure everything is included," Hallam said. "So when the sales market turns around, we'll hit the market with everything we want.

"Sometimes, when the pressure is intense, you don't have enough time to dot your i's and cross your t's."

But regulating the pace of development is not a perfect plan, Hallam conceded. When the housing market heats up and demand far outstrips an area's supply, prices spike. And, in addition to slow growth, residents and council members also want affordable housing.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at 578-2382 or ehightower@modbee.com.