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City officially adopts Morgan Ranch Master Plan
New plan to include roughly 1,000 homes, school
Morgan Ranch pic

The City of Turlock is charting new territory with the Morgan Ranch Master Plan, a planned development on the south side of Turlock that will include a new school. It is the first time that a medium density residential range of this size will be collectively developed as an estimated 980 to 1,200 units are anticipated at full build out.

The Turlock City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved not only the Environmental Impact Report for the Morgan Ranch Master Plan - a document that has been more than a decade in the making - but also adopted the project as part of the City's General Plan.

"This action tonight is the culmination of a very long planning process that has been going on for the Morgan Ranch Master Plan area," said Deputy Director of Development Services Debbie Whitmore, noting that the first iteration of the master plan's environmental review was in 2004. "We've been working on this for a very long time."

The housing component of the Morgan Ranch project is a concept driven by the development community that is looking to offer a smaller product that would be available for entry-level housing, something that is consistent with the City's General Plan said Whitmore.

"It's pretty exciting for us. It's kind of a new area since we've done this on sort of a site by site basis, but this is the first time we've done a master plan that is oriented around a uniform medium density residential range," explained Whitmore on Tuesday evening.

The Morgan Ranch Master Plan 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 are zoned for a public school to accommodate 300 students; 15 acres are zoned high density residential; eight acres are slated to 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, less than 6,000 square feet, many of which may be more affordable than median home prices and ideal for single families.

Elements of the plan have been a point of concern including the loss of agricultural resources, air quality and transportation and the City has had to show efforts to mitigate these impacts. These three components will have a "significant and unavoidable impact" since the city will lose valuable farm land, the air quality will become poorer due to construction, and there will be increased traffic due to the development of new homes.

"We have mitigation measures that would fully reduce the transportation impact to less than significant, but we are unable to find a guarantee for funding so it's purely a funding issue that causes the 'significant unavoidable impact,'" explained Randy Chaffin, principal planner of the Quad Knopf planning firm to the council on Tuesday.

While the City is charged with addressing environmental impacts, local residents also vocalized concerns about the project in workshops and the planning commission meetings leading up to Tuesday's council vote. Concerns included the availability of water for development during the ongoing drought and the conversion of prime farm land to urban use as well as subsequent green house gas emissions. Members of the public also wanted to ensure that the new development would be included in the City's Active Transportation Plan, a plan currently underway to make Turlock more cyclist and pedestrian friendly.

As far as a timeline is concerned for the Morgan Ranch development, Director of Development Services Mike Pitcock estimates "a year of two if you have someone that is interested." The size and scope of the project, which will involve working with multiple property owners, will likely require a group of developers which may take time to coordinate said Pitcock.

Also on Tuesday the Turlock City Council:
• Established and adopted a Development Mitigation Fee Program, which includes an infrastructure fee program for elements such as transportation, sewer and water for the Morgan Ranch Master Plan. The low fees should make the project attractive to the development community, according to Pitcock.
• Tabled voting on the Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission's recommendations for the Community Grant Funding, the first full funding cycle that the City of Turlock has performed since the dissolution of the City's partnership with the Chamber of Commerce to operate the Convention and Visitors Bureau. An ad hoc subcommittee may be established at the next meeting to discuss the criteria used to allocate funding. Funds were suggested to be awarded to the 49th Assyrian State Convention, ACTRA California Chapter Team Roping Championships, Assyrian Festival, Bring the Ruckus Car Show, Central Valley Brewfest, Coors Monster Truck Spring Nationals, Fields of Ice, Turlock Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze, and Tournament of Champions.