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Turlockers question General Plan premises

POSTED October 21, 2011 10:17 p.m.

Nearly three years into the planning process, some Turlockers are still questioning the premise Turlock’s General Plan Update – a document which will guide the city’s growth for 20 years – is based on.

Their concerns were aired at a public meeting to review the draft General Plan on Thursday evening, intended as an opportunity for the public to familiarize themselves with the near-final plan.

The General Plan Update envisions Turlock growing southeast first, onto relatively poorer farmland, as it strives to accommodate as many as 50,000 more residents. After 70 percent of the southeast has been built out, the community could then grow northwest, constructing homes west of Highway 99 and near Pedretti Park.

The growth plan, supported by council since an Aug. 23, 2010 vote, was among the most compact of four options presented by Turlock’s General Plan consultants, Dyett & Bhatia. The plan calls for denser housing developments than currently seen in Turlock, and would use only about 2,000 acres of farmland.

But Michael Crowell, a farmer and former Turlock Irrigation District director, disagreed with the notion of southern farmland being less desirable.

“I’ve heard people say they wanted to expand to the south and to the east, because the land is poorer there or some such thing,” Crowell said. “... To say that the land down to the south is poorer land, that's a crock. It's not the truth. It's wrong.”

Crowell, an advocate of growing to the northwest, said the land west of 99 is shallow soil above hardpan. He said he’d rather grow trees on the southern land.

But planners said their recommendation to grow onto the relatively poorer lands in the southeast were based on U.S. Department of Agriculture soil surveys, which identify the western soils as “Prime Farmland” – the highest grade. Much of the southeast land is of varying quality, per the USDA, ranging to the lower grade of “Unique Farmland.”

Diana Porter-Suckow, a real estate agent who owns land to the northwest, raised other issues with the southeast – namely the relative lack of infrastructure. Only about three-fifths of the southeast could be built out before a costly new highway interchange would be needed, while other infrastructure could be costly as well.

“You're painting a very positive picture toward one area, and totally discouraging people from hearing the facts about the west,” said Porter-Suckow. “They've got the water, they've got the sewer, they've got the Fulkerth off ramp, and they've got the Monte Vista off ramp.”

Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore said any growth would, necessarily, be accompanied by infrastructure costs, as the infrastructure doesn't exist where homes would be in the northwest either. And, because of the denser development, infrastructure costs per unit would be similar to existing costs, Whitmore said, though more detailed cost analyses are pending.

Crowell had concerns with the density proposed by the plan as well, which calls for an average of about eight units per acre, above Turlock's current density of 5.6 units per acre. Crowell said, at that density, residents would be “packed in like rats.”

“This is over the line, you can't tell people they're going to live 20 to the acre,” Crowell said. “Supply and demand dictates those things.”

Planners pointed out that the density was driven by community feedback, that, as more young people move to Turlock and the existing population ages, the demand for smaller homes will increase. Those denser communities are focused around small, community shopping centers, schools, parks, and areas to work, hopefully cutting down on emissions and making Turlock more livable and “green.”

Also, by employing a denser development, more farmland was able to be preserved – another point prominent in early meetings with Turlockers, planners said.

“We have been in touch with you, we have listened to a lot of people,” said Leslie Gould, the consultant helming the General Plan Update.

The plan also calls for a mix of housing, Gould noted, with some high-density apartment complex-style areas and other areas of single-family, detached residences.

“We've put together the best middle, the best variety of densities that we can,” Gould said.

Planners answered other questions as well, detailing growth plans for East Avenue – including residential, small community shopping centers, parks, and schools – a new arterial road on Turlock's east side, an improved, citywide bike lane system, and plans to maintain existing historic neighborhoods.

But concerns regarding the basic plan weren't addressed Thursday, which was meant solely as an informational meeting. The Turlock City Council and the Turlock Planning Commission will decide how to move forward on the plan at a special 5 p.m. Nov. 8 joint meeting, to be held in the Yosemite Room of Turlock City Hall, 156 S. Broadway.

“If you're trying to convince someone of a point, you'd be better off coming to the Nov. 8 meeting,” Whitmore said.

For consideration at the Nov. 8 joint meeting of the Turlock Planning Commission and City Council, comments must be submitted by Oct. 28. Comments may be sent to gpupdate@turlock.ca.us

For more information, or to review the draft General Plan Update, visit http://www.gpupdate.turlock.ca.us/

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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