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City hosts public forum for plan that includes new school, more homes
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After ten years of evolving plans, steps are being taken again towards developing property in the southern part of Turlock known as the Morgan Ranch Master Plan that includes a public school, city parks, and residential housing.

 On Thursday evening City of Turlock staff, representatives of Quad Knopf planning firm, and local residents gathered to discuss the Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Morgan Ranch project as “various iterations of the plan have been developed since the plan was first proposed ten years ago,” said Randy Chafin of Quad Knopf.

The property involved is roughly 170 acres of land in the southwest corner of Glenwood Avenue and Golf Link Road which is bound by Highway 99, located just to the south of the community of homes on 5th Avenue, Amberwood Lane, and Baywood Lane. Of the 170 acres 11 would be zoned for a public school to accommodate 300 students; 15 acres would be zoned high density residential; eight acres would be devoted to city parks including a four acre drainage ditch with a raised portion of land for jungle gym equipment; one and a half acres for office buildings; and nearly nine acres for community commercial use. A hallmark of the plan is the smaller sized lots which are less than 6,000 square feet, ideal for single families.

 A similar meeting was held in 2012 when a revised version of the plan was created after the 2008 drop in the housing market halted the original landowner’s development plans. In 2010 the City agreed to take over the responsibility of funding and completing the master plan and has since worked with Quad Knopf to gather public input on the plan and its potential impact on the environment.

On Thursday evening Chafin noted that of the 15 elements that are considered when evaluating a project’s environmental impact, only three were of concern with the Morgan Ranch project: the loss of agricultural resources, air quality, and transportation. These three components will have a “significant and unavoidable impact” since the city will lose agricultural property, the air quality will become poorer, and there will be increased traffic upon the development of new homes.

These impacts were only the beginning of concerns voiced by citizens on Thursday evening, though. Milton Trieweiler stated that the project was not economically feasible, noting that it seemed illogical to build more roads when the recently proposed half-cent road tax to fix Turlock roads failed to pass.

 “We can’t repair the roads we already have but we’re going to put in more?” he said. “I don’t see how this project is sustainable.”

Nearby residents also stated that they were concerned that the development of two high density residential pockets of land that border Glenwood Avenue would negatively impact neighbors unassociated with the project. While Chafin conceded that “there is no question that people outside of the project will be affected,” Deputy Director of Development Services and Planning Debbie Whitmore noted that the land has been zoned high density since the City’s 1993 General Plan was developed.

Water was also a major topic of conversation as the ongoing drought has made residents and City staff alike conscientious of every drop. Presently the land utilizes Turlock Irrigation District resources and most residents’ use wells. The plan states that a new City water well will be drilled within the plan with a potential well site located in the northwest corner of Highway 99 and Golf Road. While Trieweiler said that depleting ground water and paying potentially millions of dollars to drill and treat arsenic infected wells is far from ideal, Whitmore said it has been determined that there is a sufficient amount of water and the City’s Urban Water Management Plan accounts for master plans such as this.

Other amendments to the area include the creation of a road, now referred to as the Morgan Ranch Arterial Road, which would be two lanes and include roundabouts, which are more effective at moving traffic than stoplights. In turn, a portion of Glenwood Avenue west of Baywood Lane would be closed to direct traffic to the Morgan Ranch Arterial Road which leads to Lander Avenue.

According to City Planner Katie Quintero, there are “no guarantees” as far as a slated date to build ground due to the needed approval of the City Council, influence of the housing market, as well as the developer’s timeline. While the conversation generated Thursday evening provides valuable insight for the City and Quad Knopf as far as expectations of the community, staff are required to specifically respond to written concerns. These comments and the staff’s responses are both incorporated in the report that will be submitted to the Planning Commission and City Council, both of which must approve the plan before construction begins.