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Council, Planning Commission split on city’s growth plan

POSTED November 8, 2011 11:29 p.m.

The Turlock City Council unanimously agreed to move forward with the city’s ongoing general plan update – a document which will guide the city’s growth for 20 years – even as citizens and planning commissioners continued to voice lingering concerns about where Turlock will grow.

Tuesday’s move will release the draft plan, beginning the lengthy environmental review process. Only after that process is completed and impacts of the plan are fully assessed will the council will be asked to select a final plan.

The review will examine three plans: A preferred alternative, which would see Turlock grow both to the northeast and to the southwest, an option which calls for Turlock to grow only to the southwest, and an alternative which would see the city grow only to fill a small portion of available land in the southwest. The second option could be preferable, as it uses less farmland, while the third option benefits from not

“Those are legitimate alternatives you could select at the end of this process,” said Debbie Whitmore, Turlock planning manager.

But selecting a different alternative would force a rewrite of the General Plan – a $40,000 proposition. The costs weren’t enough to deter the Planning Commission, long opponents of growth onto prime farmland in the northeast, from continuing to lobby against growth to that area.

“Even with the $40,000 it might cost us to do this, I think it’s a drop in the bucket for something this important,” said Planning Commissioner Soraya Fregosi.

The Turlock Planning Commission has long opposed residential growth to the west of Highway 99, though their direction was ignored in both an initial, August 2010 council decision and in a March follow up. At that March meeting, a split council supported the western growth, with Mayor John Lazar and council members Amy Bublak and Bill DeHart in favor and council members Mary Jackson and Forrest White opposed.

In large part, planning commissioners’ decisions were based on a desire to protect the farmland in northwest Turlock, which is among the best land in the nation, per U.S. Department of Agriculture designations.

“You know the position of the Planning Commission with respect to residential growth west of Highway 99,” said Planning Commission Chair Mike Brem. “Our opinion hasn’t changed in that regard. You’ll be hearing that, I think, as a pretty consistent theme as we go forward.”

White continued his opposition to northwesterly residential growth, arguing such growth would split Turlock as well. He also said the growth could limit future expansion of the Turlock Regional Industrial Park (formerly known as the Westside Industrial Specific Plan).

“If we build out the WISP, where do we go?” White asked. “I’m an advocate that it would go north, but you have it as residential.”

 

Residential growth, other items still at issue

At full build out, the preferred option could house an additional 35,000 to 55,000 residents over the next 20 years – an amount of growth which worried Jackson.

“Maybe I’m not reading the economy correctly, but I’m not seeing us growing that quickly,” Jackson said. “I think that’s a huge assumption.”

While the projections may seem rosy, Lazar said that 20 years ago,  few would have projected Turlock to be a city of nearly 70,000 today.

“I would rather be prepared than not prepared,” Lazar said. “This is a prospective document. You have to look to the future and plan for the future.”

There’s still much to be settled before the final plan is approved. The Turlock Unified School District has requested a waiver for development impact fees, and the Denair Fire Department has expressed concerns about Turlock’s eastern expansion robbing the agency of tax revenues.

Answering those questions – and others – will require further community input, DeHart said.

 “We’re seeking your input,” DeHart said. “We can’t operate in a vacuum.

“There are a lot of things I think we have yet to do. There are a lot of ideas I think we have yet to hear.”

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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