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Council approves revisiting big box ban in future
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Want to build a big box discount superstore in the City of Turlock? Check back around 2020, a split Turlock City Council said Tuesday night.

A majority of council members – Mayor John Lazar, Vice Mayor Amy Bublak and Councilman Bill DeHart – voted to revisit allowing discount superstores in town once the City of Turlock grows to 27,000 housing units.

“27,000 is just to trigger further investigation,” Bublak said. “We’re not going to go forward as soon as those numbers come, (we) would go forward and reassess.”

The 27,000 housing unit threshold is the minimum number of Turlock households needed to support 200,000 square feet of new big box stores, according to Jason Moody, a consultant with Economic and Planning Systems, Inc. of Berkeley.

Based on general plan growth rates and historical growth rates, Turlock will hit 27,000 housing units and 90,000 to 100,000 residents sometime between 2015 and 2020. Turlock is currently home to about 23,500 households and 70,000 residents.

“That’s about how much additional population, the total population that would be required to support that level of demand,” Moody said. “… Right now you don’t have the population to support a new discount superstore in the City of Turlock without competing against the existing stores and cannibalizing that demand.”

Moody’s projection takes into account Turlock and the surrounding unincorporated areas, including Denair and Keyes. The projection would not be affected by discount superstores opening in neighboring communities like Patterson and Ceres, Moody said, as Turlock’s population would be capable of supporting such a store by itself at that time.

Once Turlock hits 27,000 housing units, the City Council will consider allowing discount superstores near the Lander Avenue, Fulkerth Road and Monte Vista Avenue interchanges with Highway 99, per the policy adopted Tuesday night. The city will not consider allowing the stores at a planned new interchange, further south of Highway 99, which will likely not be constructed until after 2020.

Discount superstores, those greater than 100,000 square feet in total size with more than 5 percent of floor space devoted to non-taxable goods like groceries, have been banned in Turlock since 2003. At that time, the then-Turlock City Council argued the stores would have a detrimental impact on existing stores, traffic patterns and pollution levels.

The City of Turlock was forced to defend that decision in court when Walmart launched a legal challenge of the ordinance. Turlock spent two years and nearly $400,000 defending the ordinance, but the legality of the ban was upheld.

But the issue came back in 2010, when council directed the Planning Commission to reexamine allowing big box stores in a search for additional jobs and tax revenue. After a series of public meetings where the stores had little or no support, on Nov. 4, 2010, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the council not allow discount superstores.

“It seems like we’ve been through that exercise in terms of that particular kind of store,” said Planning Commissioner Soraya Fregosi.

On Jan. 11, a split 3-2 council voted against that recommendation, directing staff to further analyze allowing discount superstores as part of the general plan update process. The move would utilize a new zoning district, Regional Commercial, where discount superstores would be allowed.

Council members Mary Jackson and Forrest White opposed allowing discount superstores both on Jan. 11 and on Tuesday night.

 “There would be a specific area that would be zoned that would be exempt from the ban,” White said. “… I didn’t want the zone, because I didn’t want to exempt the rule.”


Council to reconsider General Plan Update area

An agendized discussion on alternatives to the general plan update study area – which much be researched under state environmental laws – was postponed due to concerns about cost and questions whether the initial study area is in the correct location.

As approved by the Turlock City Council on Aug. 23, 2010, the general plan would see Turlock growing southeast, and then to the northwest, west of Highway 99. The Planning Commission recommendation was to have Turlock’s residential units remain east of Highway 99.

“I’m still not sold on the primary alternative, including the northwest,” said Planning Commission Chair Mike Brem. “I’m not sure that, even though that’s been the direction from the City Council and I respect that, I don’t believe that that’s the will of the people of Turlock to have residential development (west of 99).”

Jackson agreed with Brem, as did the majority of the Planning Commission and three members of the public. All lauded the compact, efficient growth created by staying east of Highway 99 and the preservation of prime farmland.

Turlock Planning Manager Debbie Whitmore said that changing the study area at this time would cost the City of Turlock between $40,000 and $50,000, as much work would need to be redone.

The council and commission did not discuss the item in further detail, as the matter was not agendized and any conversation would have been in violation of the Brown Act.

The city council will hold a follow up meeting on these topics at 6 p.m. on March 29 in Turlock City Hall.


Council rejects updated themes

Both the Turlock Planning Commission and City Council unanimously voted against altering the themes which govern the general plan, as adopted May 25, 2010.

Turlock’s General Plan Update consultants, Dyett and Bhatia, had suggested the City of Turlock slightly modify those themes. The shifted language covered the same topical ground, but was slightly broader and less specific, omitting some of the very careful wording initially adopted.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.